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This is Part 1 of a three-part preview of Live! Philadelphia. Read Part 2 and Part 3 here.

The Cordish Companies is a unique casino developer, a generations-deep family company. So is the Live! gambling destination it plans to open early next year at 900 Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia.

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“From the onset, Cordish is known for creating with class, diverse entertainment and providing a first-class experience,” said Rob Norton, president of the Cordish Gaming Group. He added:

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“Our leadership is now of the fourth generation. We have a huge footprint. Fifty-five million people a year visit Cordish projects. It’s hard to argue we’re not an entertainment company. Entertainment drives our projects to higher levels.”

And Live! Casino Philadelphia has a setting like no other in Pennsylvania.

Live! will join a crowded Philadelphia market

When it opens, Live! Philly is likely to reshape the region’s crowded gambling market, which has Parx Casino, Valley Forge Casino Resort, Harrah’s Casino Philadelphia and Rivers Casino Philadelphia clustered nearby.

The Stadium District pulled in 8.5 million visitors a year to watch the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, 76ers and concerts pre-COVID 19.

Live! Philadelphia details and location

  • The coming Live! casino and entertainment complex adjoins the Wells Fargo Center, Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park and an existing Cordish/Comcast-Spectacor development, an entertainment and dining center known as Xfinity Live!
  • Live!’s location is at the confluence of Interstate 95 and Interstate 76.
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHY) is six miles away.
  • Center City and Olde City, major tourist destinations, are less than four miles away.
  • Buses and a subway line run by SEPTA are nearby.
  • There’s an on-site garage.
  • An upscale hotel with more than 200 rooms adjoins the venue.
  • There’s a variety of dining options. Local faves such as Termini Bros., a bakery, and Lorenzo and Son Pizza are coming. And Guy Fieri restaurants and two Asian-based eateries are in the lineup.
  • More than 2,000 new jobs are coming at a time when the coronavirus has shrunk the job market.

Live! casino details

  • The facility boasts a combined space of more than 1.5 million square feet.
  • More than 150 table games, including 29 poker tables, are planned.
  • There will be 2,200 slots and electronic table games.
  • An online casino already opened in August as PlayLive! Casino.
  • FanDuel will operate a retail sportsbook.
  • Its Live! Rewards Card is linked to other Live properties. The card’s sign-up top prize is a 2021 Lexus RC F Sport, a vehicle with a sticker price starting at about $66,000.

Building during the pandemic and opening in the aftermath

As opposed to rehabs, just two ground-up casinos, including Circa in downtown Las Vegas, have debuted nationally in 2020, a year wracked by uncertainty and delay due to COVID-19.

Just a handful of casinos are likely to open in 2021, among them Live! Philadelphia, which Cordish had hoped to have open for business by the close of 2020.

But all work on the project was shut down from April 7 to May 4 due to virus concerns, idling hundreds of workers.

As of Dec. 12, all PA casinos are once again closed by state orders to combat a rising tide of COVID-19 cases, and that makes precise opening plans and timing impossible for now.

Norton explained what it has taken to come this close to opening, with finishing touches going into place and many games already loaded in.

“It was definitely one of the more challenging times. We had to be flexible, nimble and work on concurrent paths, knowing that the rules and governance could change at any minute.”

Live! plans include ‘Play It Safe’ virus mitigation measures

The company has developed a “Play It Safe” plan to prepare for the Live! Philly opening, learning from its recent experience opening Live! Pittsburgh, a mini-casino in a rehabbed mall space in Western PA.

Norton said the company consulted with “foremost experts” to assure customer safety. “It was definitely challenging,” he said, and it required tenacity and “staying on top of things.”

Guarded, Norton had little to say about when Live! will go live, despite signs that the company had until recently hoped to open by the end of January. He said:

“We are pushing forward. By the end of Q1.”

Then he added:

“Hopefully.”

Live! Philadelphia casino & hotel history and timeline

The primary things that distinguish the Cordish Companies and its Live! brand are generational longevity and continuity, hands-on family ownership and entrepreneurial expansion.

Here’s a timeline of key events for the Cordish casino venture in Philadelphia.

  • 1910:Louis Cordish founds the company, which develops properties in the Baltimore and Washington area.
  • 1935: Son Paul Cordish joins the business. He remains with the company for 73 years.
  • 1968: Paul’s son, David, joins the company. More than 50 years later, he remains chairman and CEO.

Live site first a hotel in 1974; Jaws once an owner

  • 1974: A hotel opens at the site. The building faces bankruptcies, changes in owners and several brand affiliations.
  • 1981: Cordish creates gaming and hotel divisions.
  • 1993: Sons Jon, Blake and Reed join the firm led by their father.
  • 1993: The troubled hotel at the Live! site is sold to investors including former Eagles QB Ron Jaworski.
  • 1994: An entertainment division launches.

Cordish began Live! entertainment development two decades ago

  • 1999: The first Live! entertainment district opens.
  • 2004: Cordish develops two Hard Rock Casino sites in Florida.
  • 2005: The sports district division launches.
  • 2012: Cordish opens Xfinity Live!, a venue for watching sports, with entertainment and food, near the stadium in conjunction with Comcast Spectacor.
Casino

Cordish first made a play for the site in 2014

  • 2014: Cordish and Greenwood Gaming, the parent company of Parx Casino and Racecourse, successfully bid for a license to operate at the former Hilton Hotel site after Foxwoods had its 2010 license to operate in Philly yanked due to financial issues.
  • 2014-17: Community opposition over local and minority participation, traffic congestion, a legal challenge by Rivers Casino Philadelphia and regulatory concerns due to the partial Parx ownership stall the project, which is often referred to as Stadium Casino.
  • 2018: Cordish and Greenwood purchase the site for $37 million. Late in 2018, Cordish buys out Greenwood. Work begins on the project, beginning with the demolition of the existing hotel.

Gaming license approved in 2019

  • 2019: The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board approves the license. Cordish announces that it will offer retail sports betting as well as online sports betting. A late 2020 opening is projected during a topping-off ceremony in October
  • 2020: Amid COVID-19 concerns and a union dispute, construction at the site stops in April but resumes the next month, though with many health restrictions. By midsummer, the opening in Philly is pushed back, eventually to 2021. But key hirings begin during the summer. The Live! online casino launches in August. And a sister facility, Live! PittsburghCasino, launches in November.

Catch up on Part 1 of our Live! Philadelphia preview series here.

In the Bible, there are four Gospels, but in real estate, there are only three: location, location, location. The opening-soon Live! Casino Philadelphia hit the location jackpot.

The $700 million hotel and casino at 900 Packer Avenue is in a prime location in the Stadium District in South Philadelphia. Senior vice president of marketing Mario Maesano said:

“That’s the name of the game in this business. The casino with the best location usually does pretty well. We think we have the premier location in the market that allows us to attract customers from all over the city, up toward Trenton, and just as important, the western New Jersey market, where we think we can make some inroads.”

Its moniker “Live!” is the opposite of what’s happening in a city and country still in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down casinos, indoor dining and more during the spring, and again in December. The Stadium District in South Philadelphia, home of Philadelphia’s four major sports teams, concerts and other events, usually draws about 8.5 million visitors annually.

South Philadelphia Stadium District has a storied history

Since March, with the exception of a few Philadelphia Eagles games, the once-packed seats have been empty. Fans — the life of the party at home games — are conspicuously absent. The games go on, but the teams, arena and stadiums eagerly await their return. So does Live! Casino Philadelphia.

Over the past dozen years, the complex rocked when Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid proved a process was worth the pain. Heads and the building shook when the Flyers bullied their way out of a 3-0 hole to beat the Boston Bruins in seven games en route to the Stanley Cup finals.

It reached transcendental levels of excitement when the Phillies fought their way through a rain delay and 25 years of futility to win a World Series, and a nearly a decade later when an Eagles team of hungry dogs brought home the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy.

Live Casino Philadelphia

Live! Casino Philadelphia will have to capture a bit of that fight and magic, and of course a widely distributed vaccine, to build a legacy like its neighbors. But it’s in a prime position to be a part of Philadelphia’s comeback story.

Competing in a busy Philly gaming landscape

Four of Pennsylvania’s 12 existing brick-and-mortar casinos are within 25 miles of Philly Live!

So how will the newcomer compete? Maesano says Live!’s reward program and the fact that its casino is tailored for Philadelphia give it a competitive advantage:

“This casino is built for Philadelphia. The competitors took the products they use in other markets and copy and pasted it here. We are building this specifically for the Philadelphia market, from the restaurants we are choosing to the games, decor and amenities.

“We think we are building the casino Philadelphia actually deserves and not a cookie-cutter casino. This is custom-built for the Philadelphia market, and they are going to see what we mean once they walk through the front door, and the first words out of their mouths are going to be ‘Wow. We didn’t know what we were missing until this place opened.’”

Revenue figures from casinos near Live!

2019-20 fiscal year figures for casinos within a 25-mile radius of Live! Casino Philadelphia follow.

Rivers Casino Philadelphia

Opened: 2010

Distance from Live!: 5.3 miles

FY 2019-2020
Slot revenue$123.6 million
Slot win per day$216
# of machines1,697
Table games revenue$94.8 million
Retail sportsbook revenue$5.7 million

Harrah’s Casino Philadelphia

Opened: 2007

Distance from Live!: 13 miles

FY 2019-2020
Slot revenue$136.2 million
Slot win per day$230
# of machines2,176
Table games revenue$42.4 million
Retail sportsbook revenue$1.7 million

Parx

Opened: 2009

Distance from Live!: 22 miles

FY 2019-2020
Slot revenue$300.4 million
Slot win per day$322
# of machines3,098
Table games revenue$137.9 million
Retail sportsbook revenue$9.3 million

Valley Forge Casino

Opened: 2012

Distance from Live! 25 miles

FY 2019-2020
Slot revenue$75.1 million
Slot win per day$308
# of machines821
Table games revenue$26.6 million
Retail sportsbook revenue$1.4 million

Newest addition to the sports complex

Apart from a number of competing casinos nearby, Live! has a some-well known neighbors.

  • The Wells Fargo Center: Opened in 1996 and home to the Philadelphia Flyers, Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League and select Villanova Wildcats men’s basketball games.
  • Lincoln Financial Field: “The Linc” opened in 2003 and is the home of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Temple Owls football team.
  • Citizens Bank Park: The Philadelphia Phillies’ home field since 2004.
  • With the addition of Xfinity Live! in 2012, and now Live! Casino, it is no longer just a sports complex. It’s a sports, entertainment and casino-resort hub. Live! Casino is a stone’s throw from Xfinity Live!, an 80,000-square-foot complex dedicated to dining and entertainment. It is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions; however it is a popular pre/during/postgame spot for fans and a frequent place of choice for broadcasts. The Cordish Companies developed and owns XFinity Live! in partnership with Comcast Spectacor.
  • Fusion Arena: Cordish is also planning the first dedicated esports venue in the Sports Complex at a $50 million price tag. Construction has been delayed due to the pandemic.
  • South Philadelphia Race & Sportsbook: Across the street from Live! sits one of the last remaining off-track betting facilities in Pennsylvania. The Parx-owned facility that was formerly named the South Philadelphia Turf Club is the last of these facilities in the Philadelphia region.

Xfinity Live Stream

Partnerships with Philadelphia pro teams

Philadelphia sports teams started forming partnerships with casinos in 2018 and since then have teamed for sports betting, also. A full breakdown can be found here.

Maesano said that Live! Casino Philadelphia becoming a partner with the four major sports teams in Philadelphia is part of its marketing strategy. It has had discussions with all the teams, and a deal is currently in place with the Phillies that includes a limited edition commemorative rewards card.

Philadelphia a growing tourist and foodie destination

Forty-six million people visited the greater Philadelphia area in 2019 and spent $7.6 billion.

Philadelphia is more than the “Rocky steps” and the Liberty Bell. It’s home to various museums, historical landmarks, the oldest continuously inhabited street in America (Elfreth’s Alley) and the oldest zoo (Philadelphia Zoo). It’s also a haven for foodies.

Philadelphia is known for its cheesesteaks, and there is no denying the deliciousness of a wiz wit. However, there’s more than a signature sandwich. The city’s food scene has been getting some well-deserved high praise.

Conde Nast Travelerranked Philadelphia among its top eight 2021 destinations.

Jeff Guaracino, president and CEO of Visit Philadelphia, commented to PlayPennsylvaniaabout Live!:
“We are excited about the opening of Live! It will add even more energy to the sports and entertainment district with hotel amenities and will help draw leisure visitors, especially on weekends.”

Live! plans to shine with Philly food scene

In August 2019, Travel + Leisurenamed Philadelphia as the best food city on the East Coast. In December 2020, Esquire magazine named Philadelphia-based Kalaya one of the best new restaurants in the country and said, “Even in a city with arguably the most exciting food scene in the United States, [Kalaya] leaves the competition in its dust.”

Live! recently announced that The Prime Rib, which was previously at the Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia, would join its dining lineup, which also includes:

  • Luk Fu
  • Guy Fieri’s Taco Joint
  • Guy’s Burger Joint
  • Sang Kee Noodle House
  • Lorenzo and Sons Pizza
  • Termini Bros.
  • Morty’s Deli

Commented Maesano about Live!’s dining options:

“We aren’t just building an average hotel and casino. This is a five-star, four-diamond luxury hotel. We don’t do traditional casino dining. Everything we do from a food and beverage standpoint in this company is a step above everything in the market. When you put that philosophy of being a foodie company in a town that prides itself on being a foodie town, it’s a perfect marriage. We don’t feel our competitors can or do offer the quality or variety of food that we are going to have at Live!”

Exclamation point

New Live Casino In Philadelphia

Rivers Casino Philadelphia closed on Nov. 20 and will not reopen until at least Jan. 15, 2021, as a result of a series of changes to the current restrictions by the City of Philadelphia to slow the surge of coronavirus cases. Prior to its closing, Rivers Philadelphia, the only casino in the city’s limits until Live! joins, was operating at 25% capacity. The state’s other casinos operated at 50%.

Live! Casino Philadelphia is set to open in “early 2021,” according to casino reps. Some sources say it is planning for the third week in January, the beginning of February or by the end of first-quarter 2021. When it does open, what capacity limits will there be? Will a vaccine be widely available? When will COVID-19 capacity limits be lifted? There are a lot of question marks.

But atop the new casino is the word Live with an exclamation point. It might be hard to fully envision now, 10 months into a catastrophic pandemic, capital “L” live exclamation point. “When you put the name ‘Live’ on the side of your building, the name has a meaning to people,” said Maesano.

Xfinity

“When something is live, there is a certain cachet or expectation. It’s high energy, exciting, anything can happen at any moment. Because our name is Live! we have a dedication and marketing plan that services that belief from our customer. This place will be hopping 24/7. We don’t do what other casinos do. Everybody does the generic giveaways but we do it with ‘Live!’ in mind. How do we make it unique and infuse something extra?

Philadelphia Live Hotel & Casino

“So when a customer walks into this facility, something magical is going to happen. We work very hard to live up to the Live! ‘Anything can happen at any moment’ philosophy. That’s why there is the exclamation point.”