THE ANTE IS about to be raised big-time in the high-stakes contest that is regional casino gaming.
Pending final state approval, Philadelphia Park Casino Racetrack in Bensalem will open the doors at 6 a.m. tomorrow to parx, the two-year-old gambling den's permanent facility.
Built several hundred yards east of the temporary casino housed inside the racetrack, parx (no capital letters) is expected to set a new and much higher standard for Pennsylvania gambling venues.
Comparing it to Atlantic City's six-year-old Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa, gaming-industry analyst Harvey Perkins described the $250 million, 260,000-square-foot complex as a game-changer that "definitely raises the consumer expectation level the way Borgata did for Atlantic City." Like Borgata, added Perkins, senior vice president of Linwood, N.J.-based Spectrum Gaming Group, parx will be a "category killer."
As such, he said, "I expect it to be a significant success, not only for [casino owner Greenwood Gaming Entertainment Inc.] but also a win-win for customers [who will have] a better environment, and also for employees, who will be working for a successful company."
Perkins suggested that parx will adversely affect gambling meccas in Eastern Pennsylvania (and many in Atlantic City) because gamblers, he expects, will find it several cuts above those casinos. As he explained it, once consumers are provided a better mousetrap, "you want a better mousetrap."
Although situated on Street Road amid endless mid-level retail outlets and chain restaurants, parx exudes an elegance not found in other Pennsy casinos. With its modern design and richly appointed furnishings, parx is closer in tone and atmosphere to Borgata and luxe Las Vegas operations like Bellagio and Palazzo than it is to a "slot barn" like Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack.
One way it is differentiating itself from the pack is in its use of building materials. For instance, while other Pennsylvania properties pride themselves on the use of indigenous materials, parx features exotic teak wood and marble from Pakistan.
Parx will open with about 3,100 slot machines and video poker consoles, as well as about 175 units offering electronic versions of blackjack, roulette and three-card poker. In other casinos, these games tend to be treated as an afterthought. Parx, however will have a dedicated area.
"We treat electronic table games like a live game environment," said Darlene Monzo, parx's vice president of marketing.
The impending implementation of table games has been factored into the design. According to Monzo, there is an extra 300,000 square feet of space hidden behind a temporary wall at parx. When the state gives the go-ahead, "live" game pits will be positioned in the center of the existing casino floor, with the slot machines that now occupy the space being moved to the auxiliary area.
It appears as if Philly Park is poised to enter the poker fray in a big way. Monzo said there are plans to create a 100-table cardroom (bigger by some 20 percent than Borgata's largest-in-Atlantic City poker parlor) on the third floor of the racetrack building.
As was the case with the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, the still-shaky economy kept parx from opening as a full-service resort with a luxury hotel and a retail component. But that's not to suggest it doesn't have amenities designed to enhance the gambling experience.
Fine dining is represented by parx grill, an upscale steakhouse slated to open on Christmas. Those seeking a more casual (read: cheaper) meal can avail themselves of Foodie's, a food court that will feature, among other offerings, several items (including crab fries) from Chickie's & Pete's. In March, the local sports-bar empire will open a separate, full-service outlet boasting an array of high-tech, nonwagering video games.
Entertainment will be based at 360, a state-of-the-art casino-floor nightclub that will feature cover bands on a 40-foot stage, as well as a DJ for dancing.
According to Monzo, who supervised the casino's design and construction, the next phase of development is scheduled to include a hotel and retail area.
But, she noted, "If we really hit it off in 360, if that's a success, there will probably be a nightclub and multi-purpose [entertainment] space built before the retail. That will probably be determined pretty early, probably by February ."
Also on the casino floor is jax bar, which has 30 25-cent video gambling terminals and nine beers on tap.