This article was originally published in USA Today on January 23, 2021
PHILADELPHIA – The sounds of construction rang out as Joe Billhimer stood just inside the 10th Street entrance of Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia.
Through the doors, less than a block away, sat Citizens Bank Park – home of the Philadelphia Phillies.
"This entrance will facilitate a lot of the fans," Billhimer, an executive vice president with Live! Philadelphia's ownership group The Cordish Companies, told the Vineland Daily Journal, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. "Citizen Bank Park is right there, obviously the Linc (Lincoln Financial Field) is right behind it, and Wells Fargo Center right across the way."
Location is key for this new 510,000-square-foot venue, and Live! Philadelphia believes it found a prime spot in what it's dubbing the "Stadium District" – a site home to four major professional sports teams.
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Make a left through that 10th Street entrance and you'll hit Sports & Social Philadelphia, a sports bar and lounge home to Live! Philadephia's FanDuel sportsbook. The area features a sprawling bar, wall of TVs and even a private theater viewing area for VIP guests.
Live! Philadelphia is not concerned about losing business to online sports gambling. Officials here expect the sportsbook to be a marquee attraction, especially on game days in the city.
"Come here on a Sunday morning and tailgate," said Jake Joyce, chief marketing officer. "There's 50,000 people out here that will never make it into the stadium. We go where the people go."
COVID-19 has put a damper on any thoughts of a full-blown unveiling, but Live! Philadelphia does plan to move ahead with a scaled-back opening on Feb. 11 with safety precautions in place.
In addition to steps like required masks and limited capacities, Live! Philadelphia's gaming experience will feature built-in technology to promote a safe atmosphere.
For example, when a guest sits down to play certain electronic games, the machines on either side of the patron are designed to shut off to promote social distancing.
The casino features more than 2,100 slot machines and 150 live-action table games equipped with plexiglass dividers. There is a dedicated 29-table poker room that Billhimer said is "as nice as any on the East Coast."
More: Will Atlantic City gaming industry feel pressure from new competitor in Live! Philadelphia?
The casino features 74 dealer-assist electronic table games where guests can play different types of games, like blackjack and roulette, simultaneously. Live! Philadelphia also has high-limit slot and table rooms, and a Live! Rewards program.
Dining at Live! Philadelphia is headlined by The Prime Rib and Luk Fu, described as flavors of Southeast Asia meet South Philadelphia.
The 10th Street Market is a food hall that will include the likes of Lorenzo and Sons Pizza, Sang Kee Noodle Bar & Kitchen, Termini Brothers Bakery, Guy Fieri's Burger and Taco joints, and more.
Guests should expect dining options at Live! Philadelphia to become more accessible starting in late February, according to Billhimer.
The aptly named Center Bar is in the middle of the casino floor and will be home to live music, communal tables and plush lounge seating. Live! Philadelphia's R Bar is an interactive area featuring electronic table games and a 40-foot-long TV.
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Your EmailLive! Philadelphia boasts a 12-story, 208-room hotel consisting of 30 suites with city views. Joyce said the property has already started seeing room reservations.
Online rates show rooms starting at $299 Sunday to Thursday and $399 Friday and Saturday.
Live! Philadelphia has a 15,000-square-foot event center capable of hosting meetings or entertainment up to about 1,100 guests, according to Joyce.
The project is expected to create about 2,000 jobs and generate $2 billion in economic stimulus for Philadelphia, according to The Cordish Companies. They also promises $100 million in tax revenue for the city in its first five years of operation, including $25 million to The School District of Philadelphia.
The Cordish Companies owns nearby Xfinity Live! at the Philadelphia sports complex and operates a similar gaming facility in Maryland in addition to sports entertainment venues around the country.
Live! Philadelphia enters a market that includes nearby Rivers Casino, Parx in Bensalem, Harrah's in Chester and Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia.
The new operation will also try to lure gamers loyal to Atlantic City with what it believes is a convenient and attractive home.
"We’re right off (interstates) 76 and 95," Billhimer said. "Obviously, stadiums were built for people to come in and go out, and we’re in a premier location. So I think we’re an easy place to get to from a lot of Central to South Jersey. Why go out to Atlantic City when you have all of the amenities right here?”
Live! Philadelphia has a series of reservation-only preview days scheduled to begin on Jan. 19 for Live! Rewards club members before opening to the public at 8 p.m. on Feb. 11.
From there, Live! Philadelphia will take a conservative approach in welcoming guests to the property.
"It' the beginning of a marathon, not a sprint, so we want to do it right," Billhimer said. "We're looking to establish a business that will be here a lot longer than all of us."
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