The Cordish Companies’ Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia opens with Philly-style fanfare
By Frank Legato
There was Dr. J, the Philadelphia 76ers NBA legend, doing his best Steve Lawrence impression to throw the ceremonial ﬁrst toss of the dice at Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia on February 11. Elsewhere, you could ﬁnd the reigning champion South Philadelphia String Band Mummers. The Phillie Phanatic, the Philadelphia Phillies mascot, was there too, as was former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, and former Philadelphia Eagles Ron Jaworski and Vince Papale, the walk-on wide receiver who inspired the ﬁlm Invincible.
It wouldn’t have been a surprise to ﬁnd Rocky Balboa among the crowd heralding the grand opening of the new Live! Casino. It was a Philly night. More than that, it was a Philly sports night.
That’s because the new Cordish property, built and opened with lightning speed in the middle of a pandemic, is all about Philadelphia. And, because it follows the proven recipe of the Live! brand, it is all about sports as well—quite handy for a city in which sports is woven into the local psyche.
(Incidentally, this was the second new Live! property to open in as many months, the satellite Live! Casino Pittsburgh having opened in November.)
Live! Philadelphia sits in the center of what is known in South Philly as the Stadium District. Walk outside the casino and you can stride across a parking lot or two to get to the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park, the Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field, or Wells Fargo Center, home to the 76ers and hockey’s Philadelphia Flyers.
“I have to tip the hat to the Cordish family and the Cordish development team for doing what nobody has been able to do for a long time in securing a site here in the Philadelphia area,” says Joe Billhimer, who is Cordish Gaming Group’s executive vice president and general manager of both Pennsylvania properties. “It’s one of the best sites left in America.”
Right down the street you’ll also ﬁnd Xﬁnity Live!, one of the sports and entertainment “districts” that has established the Live! brand across the country with what might be best described as sports bars on steroids, awash in video monitors, entertainment and a full food menu.
Xﬁnity Live!, developed in partnership with The Cordish Companies and opened in 2012, has been one of the strongest food, beverage and entertainment attractions in the country. As Cordish did with the Live! Maryland property outside of Baltimore and Live! Pittsburgh, the ﬁrst satellite casino to be built in Pennsylvania, the operator carried that sports vibe throughout the new Live! property.
In addition to sports, nods to the city of Philadelphia are everywhere, beginning with a bright red sculpture at the casino entrance that replicates Robert Indiana’s famous “LOVE” sculpture at the Love Park plaza in downtown Philadelphia. (The only diﬀerence? This one says “Live!” instead of “Love.”)
Developers at Cordish, however, knew that catering to local Philadelphians was only one of the requirements when they created Live! Philadelphia. The proximity to all the major professional sports venues meant an opportunity to serve fans of visiting teams who are in town on game day, as well as providing an overnight-stay opportunity for local fans.
That’s why there’s a world-class, 208-room luxury hotel featuring state-of-the-art technology in rooms at various price points, including two levels of suites oﬀering killer views of the city.
“We were the ﬁrst casino development in the commonwealth to actually build a hotel with its development,” Billhimer says. “I think our location has poised the market for growth.”
It also helps that the facility has easy access not only to Philadelphia International Airport, but to Interstates 95 and 76, making it easy for out-of-towners to visit.
The hotel is not the only aspect of Live! Philadelphia that is world class. The casino included in the 510,000-square-foot property features more than 2,100 state-of-the-art slot machines,74 dealer- assist electronic table games,121 Live-Action table games with plans to expand to 150, a dedicated 29-table poker room, 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.
Inside nods to local sports teams are joined by artwork from local artists and, notably, famous local food.
Restaurants include The Prime Rib, the top Zagat-rated steakhouse previously located in Center City Philadelphia for more than 20 years; Luk Fu, “where the authentic ﬂavors of Southeast Asia meet in South Philadelphia”; and 10th Street Market, a unique 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 Live! Maryland. Inside the room, a large circular table is equipped with a giant lazy Susan for community dining.
The local-ﬂavor 10th Street Market food court features favorites like two Guy Fieri outlets—Guy’s Burger Joint and Guy Fieri’s Taco Joint—as well as Morty’s Deli; Luckie’s Liquor; Termini Brothers Bakery; a 99-year Philly institution; Sang Kee Noodle Bar and Kitchen; and Lorenzo and Son’s Pizza.
Highlights of the casino include unique oﬀerings such as Sports & Social Philly, wrapped around the FanDuel Sportsbook and Lounge concept—wagering in a best-in-class sports bar, featuring a 52- foot LED screen and diﬀerent styles of entertainment. There’s even a large foosball table.
Other highlights of the main casino reveal the unique Cordish touch. One signature feature is 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 all 74 of the property’s 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.
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 Rob Norton, president of Cordish Gaming Group, 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 ticketin/ 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.
This 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 aﬀect a safe return to operations following the pandemic shutdown.
Live! Philadelphia, and its sister property in Pittsburgh, follow one more important precedent set in Maryland—building a database online. In an industry ﬁrst, Cordish launched PlayLive!, its Pennsylvania online gaming site, ahead of the opening of the physical property.
Prior to the 2012 opening of Maryland Live!, 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.
If Live! Philadelphia is popular now, much bigger success is anticipated later in 2021. At press time, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that capacity restrictions can increase to 75 percent due to COVID-19 on April 4, and indoor events may be held with 25% of maximum occupancy, up from 15% regardless of venue size, and outdoor events can be attended by 50% of a space’s maximum occupancy, up from 20%. This means more fans are allowed into the Wells Fargo Center and Citizens Bank Park for games.
It’s easy to imagine the ﬂood of customers to both the hotel and casino that will occur once the virus is ﬁnally in the rearview mirror. With full capacity and full attendance at sporting events, game days in South Philly are likely to see the casino and the hotel packed, with the Stadium District crowded with fans and Cordish’s own Xﬁnity Live! attraction a couple of blocks from the casino packed with customers.
“We’re treating the Philadelphia Live! casino as a true destination resort,” says Reed Cordish, a principal of the Cordish Companies. “It’s going to have great energy and expectation for our local customers, but I expect we’ll see people come here from 200 miles out. This is going to be one of the more exciting places you can come see a game anywhere in the country and have an experience that beats out your typical tailgating.”
The February 11 ribbon cutting, though—which capped a full week of grand-opening festivities— was all about Philadelphia, which stands to beneﬁt enormously from the property. Once fully operational, Live! Philadelphia will have created 5,000 jobs (3,000 in construction; 2,000 permanent) and will have an estimated economic impact in the neighborhood of $2 billion in the ﬁrst ﬁve years of operation.
Reed Cordish cut the ribbon along with Norton, Billhimer and numerous government oﬃcials, community leaders and tourism oﬃcials from the region.
“As a family-owned business for over 100 years, today marks an incredibly special day for my family and The Cordish Companies as we expand our Live! Casino brand into the great city of Philadelphia,” said Cordish before the ribbon was cut. “Live! Philadelphia is the region’s premier gaming and entertainment destination, and we are proud to welcome our guests, team members and the community to go Live! with us.”