The view from the mid-level suites at the new Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia reveal just how unique the property is. It looks directly toward home plate at Citizens Bank Park, the home of Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies.
Sports are woven into the new property, which opened last week for reservation-only Preview Days ahead of its February 11 grand opening. The casino-hotel is located in the middle of the city’s Stadium District, surrounded not only by the Phillies ballpark but the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field NFL stadium and the Wells Fargo Center, home to NHL hockey’s Philadelphia Flyers. Live! Philadelphia’s collection of bars and lounges are adorned with huge LED screens beaming sports contests. Its extensive FanDuel Sportsbook and Lounge gives patrons the ability to bet on sports while lounging in style.
As remarkable as the new casino property’s sports vibe is the very fact that it’s opening in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, it’s the second Pennsylvania casino opened by Baltimore-based Cordish Companies in as many months. Through its subsidiary Stadium Casino, the developer opened Live! Casino Pittsburgh in December—the first of the state’s Category 4 satellite casinos to open, and likely the only one to open ahead of its host property.
Amid industrywide shutdowns, Cordish soldiered on with both construction projects. Last week, the effort culminated in the unveiling of a property that carries the Cordish Live! brand to Philadelphia with 5,000 jobs (3,000 in construction; 2,000 permanent) and an estimated economic impact in the neighborhood of $2 billion in the first five years of operation, at a time any economic stimulus is sorely needed.
“We think it’s fantastic what we’ve built here, and a fantastic opportunity to put a lot of people to work, when so much of the country right now is putting people out of work,” Rob Norton (l.), president of Cordish Gaming, told GGB News and other outlets at a media tour ahead of last week’s Preview Days. The operator has committed to living wages for all team members, with a minimum of $12 per hour.
The 510,000-square-foot Live! property features 2,200 slot positions, including 80 electronic table games. There are 121 table games with plans to expand to 150, a dedicated 29-table poker room, the FanDuel Sportsbook and Lounge, a six-room Event Center that includes 15,000 square feet of customizable meeting/entertainment event space, and a variety of food and beverage options that include a number of local favorites. An attached multi-level parking facility is augmented by some 2,000 spaces in an outdoor surface lot.
Across the property’s interior are nods to the Philadelphia region, not only sports but artwork from local artists, famous local food, and even the sculpture that meets customers at the entrance—a bright red replica of Robert Indiana’s famous “LOVE” sculpture that marks the Love Park plaza in downtown Philadelphia. Of course, this one says “Live!” instead of “Love.”
Restaurants include the Prime Rib, the top Zagat-rated steakhouse previously located in Center City Philadelphia for more than 20 years; Sports & Social Philly, a one-of-a-kind sports restaurant, gaming venue and social lounge; Luk Fu, “where the authentic flavors of Southeast Asia meet in South Philadelphia”; and the 10th Street Market, a food hall inspired by the great food markets in Philadelphia where guests will be able to enjoy a wide variety of food, as well as a bar open 24/7.
The F&B offerings include special touches like private dining and karaoke rooms in Luk Fu, the Asian fusion brand first developed at the operator’s flagship Cordish Live! casino in Maryland, adjacent to the Arundel Mills Mall in the Baltimore suburb of Hanover. Inside the room, a large circular table is equipped with giant lazy Susan for community dining.
The local-flavor 10th Street Market food court opens in early February featuring favorites like two Guy Fieri outlets—Guy’s Burger Joint and Guy’s Taco Joint—Morty’s Deli, Luckie’s Liquor and Termini Brothers Bakery (a 99-year Philly institution).
The 208-room luxury hotel features state-of-the-art technology in rooms at various price points, including two levels of suites offering killer views of the city.
Highlights of the casino include luxurious high-end rooms for both slots and tables, and unique offerings such as the Cordish FanDuel Sportsbook concept, which wraps the sports wagering into a best-in-class sports bar, featuring a 500-foot-long LED screen and different styles of entertainment. There’s even a large foosball table. “Truly, it is a full entertainment experience,” said Norton. “It is a best-in-class sports and social entertainment brand, with the best-in-class sports operator.”
In addition to all the newest slots, there are special offerings such as the R Bar, a unique interactive area featuring electronic table games arranged facing a 40-foot-long video screen. First conceived in the Maryland Live! property, the R Bar presents many of the property’s 74 dealer-assisted ETGs in a pit configuration that puts the live dealers in front of the attraction.
The ETGs offer players the opportunity to play two blackjack games, two baccarat games and roulette, all at the same time.
Joe Billhimer, Cordish executive vice president and general manager of the Pennsylvania Live! properties, commented that the R Bar concept created for the Maryland Live! property has been an unqualified hit that is still being copied by other operators. “This is the next evolution of the R Bar,” Billhimer said. “It is an entertainment experience. The R Bar in Maryland was the first of its kind, integrating ETGs into the bar concept. After that opened, we saw (similar venues) pop up all over the country.”
Other highlights of the casino include the two high-limit gaming rooms, each with its own private bar, its own cage, and personalized service. The slots—denominations ranging from $1 to $500—are each situated in a private, Plexiglas-enclosed station. According to Norton, while the private stations provide safety against spread of the Covid-19 virus, they actually were designed before the pandemic hit, simply as a way to give the best slot players their own space.
Everything in the new casino points to the elevated Center Bar, another sports-themed bar with giant LED TV screens, communal tables, lounge seating and live music, offering a 360-degree view of the gaming floor.
Each of the property’s 121 table games is equipped with ticket-in/ticket-out pay technology, allowing players to buy in with a ticket and cash out at a kiosk. According to Norton, the property’s Aristocrat Oasis casino management system is equipped to offer completely cashless play in the near future.
The technology at the tables, which reduces player/dealer touchpoints and cash-handling, is only one aspect of an operation designed with maximum safeguards against the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
Upon entering the casino, all guests and employees pass by thermal cameras to detect anyone with a fever. Once inside the casino, the sea of Plexiglas is striking, with barriers between slot games and in front of dealers at every table. Hand sanitizer stations are everywhere.
It’s all part of “Play It Safe,” the program initiated at the Maryland Live! property early last year to effect a safe return to operations following the pandemic shutdown.
“We’re opening in a very unusual period,” Norton said. “We’re excited about bringing a project of this magnitude to the Pennsylvania market, but we’re opening in uncertain times. Covid has definitely created a world of uncertainty for almost all the businesses. Our operations are no different.
“We opened two brand-new facilities in the middle of the Covid pandemic, which brought a lot of challenges. (We’ve taken steps) to address the general public’s concerns, and our employees’ concerns, and to try to make sure we’re best-in-class as it relates to health and safety.”
The customers who began to arrive last week for the Preview Days were no strangers to the Live! brand. In an industry first, Cordish launched PlayLive!, its Pennsylvania online gaming site, ahead of the opening of the physical property.
It was a concept successfully implemented with the 2012 opening of the Maryland Live! property. Prior to the opening of that property, Cordish launched a free-to-play social casino that allowed customers to become familiar with the Live! brand and to join the Live! player’s club online. This time, the site, launched in August, is a for-money iGaming site, utilizing the GAN online gaming platform.
“We’re the first casino anywhere to launch an online casino before the bricks-and-mortar facility is open,” Norton said. “We’ve used it to capture sign-ups and introduce the Live! brand to the commonwealth prior to the casino opening up.”
“A lot of people coming (to the Preview Days) have been playing with us for six months,” added Billhimer. “They were invited to the private opening. It was a great way for them to interact with our brand before the casino opened.”
The success of the new Live! casino stands to increase as the Covid-19 pandemic subsides—particularly when the major sports teams resume play with full attendance, when the Stadium District is typically crowded with fans and Cordish’s own Xfinity Live! attraction a couple of blocks from the casino is packed with customers. The operator has marketing partnerships either in place or in the works with all the city’s professional sports teams.
Cordish Companies, which operates Live!-branded entertainment and sports-related attractions around the country, had been pursuing a Philadelphia casino for years to complement its Xfinity Live! attraction. “I had been looking at this location and this market for 20-plus years, and we have the ideal location, with I-76 and I-95 nearby, and just great demographics in the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding area,” Billhimer told GGB News at the property’s topping-off ceremony last year.
Cordish has built a facility poised to take advantage of its prime location by employing its time-tested principle of offering entertainment first, with everything else second. “It’s the DNA of the Live! brand, and what makes us different is how we do things,” Norton said. “It starts with the fact we are a family-owned company, so we operate differently.
“Everyone who comes into the organization embraces the fact that Live! means it’s an entertainment concept first. It’s not a casino; it’s not about slots. It’s about the experience. And I think we bring that to the table unlike any other company out there.”