Bob Green has a question for those who doubted him five years ago when he proposed building a slots parlor attached to a racetrack in Bensalem on an aging thoroughfare dotted with diners and budget restaurants.
"Who's laughing now?" Green, chairman of Greenwood Racing Inc., which owns the highly successful PhiladelphiaPark Casino & Racetrack at 2999 Street Rd., asked with a big grin yesterday.
It may be Green who's laughing all the way to the bank.
Three years after its Dec. 20, 2006, debut as Southeastern Pennsylvania's first slots parlor, PhillyPark will debut a state-of-the-art, $250 million expanded facility, called Parx, today that should accelerate its supremacy among the state's casinos.
Parx, which opens its glass doors at 6 a.m., features 3,300 slot machines - 40 percent more than the old property that it sits next to.
It required an additional 150 employees to staff the three restaurants (Parx Grill, Chickie's and Pete's, and Foodies), a sports bar (Jax) with 20 flat-screen TVs and an entertainment area called 360, with a stage for live bands. The casino's total workforce is now about 800.
"We're widening the scope of what we can do here," said Green, who hails from north London, as he stood among the shiny slot machines yesterday. "The amenities and services we provide will put us in a different league."
The old PhillyPark casino was shut down early last Sunday to move the employees and equipment to the new property. Testing of the slot machines by state gambling regulators was Wednesday.
The three giant LCD screens on the outside entrance that could be seen from miles away, the three $1 million chandeliers in the center of the casino, and the marble floors show how far PhillyPark has come from its humble beginnings.
The sleekly designed casino is also a view of what is to come elsewhere - the next step in the metamorphosis of the state's slots parlors into full-fledged casinos that resemble Atlantic City's gambling palaces.
Next, according to Green, is a hotel, spa, additional restaurants, and showrooms, retail and maybe residential units.
"We have a plan," he said. "Because of the land we own, there is no constraint on what we can do."
Parx, at 260,000 square feet, takes up but a few acres of a 450-acre tract that Green owns.
In 2006, PhiladelphiaPark was one of six racetracks awarded slots licenses by the state, becoming "racinos." Last month, it generated $28.3 million in gross slots revenue, up 3.2 percent from a year ago, and far ahead of No. 2 Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack in Delaware County, which took in $24.3 million.
It has risen to the top against all odds. The casino's location lacks the glitz of competitors in Bethlehem and Pittsburgh - both with $800 million casinos - and does not have a hugely traveled interstate highway that brings New Yorkers and New Jerseyans right to its doorstep, as Bethlehem does.
But PhillyPark offers something else, Green said.
"Clearly, we have strong demographics, but we also have exceptional high standards of personal service, in terms of how soon you get your car from valet, how quickly you're served a beverage and paid a jackpot."
PhillyPark and Harrah's Chester have proved to be formidable competition to Atlantic City. For the first 11 months of the year, revenue at the 11 Atlantic City casinos were down 13.5 percent from a year earlier.
Analysts say the expanded facility should keep PhillyPark on top.
"Parx Casino may establish itself as the eastern Pennsylvania category killer among racinos and will accomplish three key goals: place pressure on its competitors by raising consumer expectations, increase its market share, and create a quality development platform for the expected arrival of table games in 2010," said Harvey Perkins of Spectrum Gaming Group L.L.C., of Linwood, N.J.
Andrew Zarnett of Deutsche Bank AG said PhillyPark's expansion was "another major step in the expansion of gaming in Pennsylvania, providing a state-of-the-art facility to local gamers."
"This new facility will enable [Pennsylvania casinos] to compete on a stronger footing against Atlantic City," he said. "The passage of table games will be the next shoe to drop, which we expect to happen in early 2010."
The state General Assembly is still debating provisions within the massive table-games legislation. The House and Senate are expected to continue negotiations next month.
Green said PhillyPark and the state were ready for table games, and he has made the space for them.
The center of the new casino floor, he said, could fit 120 conventional table games, like craps, blackjack, and baccarat. The grandstand area of the old property could house 60 to 70 poker tables. And there is 20,000 square feet of space behind a temporary wall in Parx that could also be used for more table games.
"There's capacity," he said. "We'll assess the demand and go from there."