On paper, pairing one of the world’s largest gaming conglomerates with a poverty stricken third-class city comes across as ill-conceived. But a look beyond the surface reveals that Harrah’s and Chester, PA are the gambling equivalent of a match made in Heaven.
During the post-WWII era, the flagships of Chester’s economy – its shipyard and automobile industries – began to suffer. In turn, the Delaware Valley based city’s residents experienced a diminished quality of life. Plagued by high employment rates and crime, the once thriving city became a victim of its own economy, culminating in it being officially proclaimed a financially distressed municipality in 1995.
But over the past several years the city has undergone something of a revival. One by one, the tarnish of Chester’s downtrodden years were peeled away, and the natural beauty of its rollicking hills, and awe inspiring views revealed. In total, $1.36 billion was spent as part of the revitalizing process, with funds acquired primarily through private and public investments.
Even during its darkest hours, Chester played home to many a horse breeder. So what better way to welcome the new Chester than to reintroduce the public to one of its old standbys: horse racing. At least that what Harrah’s thought when it inked a deal with the city to bring harness racing back to Chester.
Taking full advantage of its majestic locale, the $400 million Harrah’s Chester racetrack was opened on September 10, 2006. Unique to the track is that its midpoint was constructed on a bridge overlooking the Delaware River. Formerly an environmentally unsound industry dump, the now sparkling clean bridge and river serve as a microcosmic representation of the new, improved Chester.
The first track to be constructed in the Chester area in approximately 40 years, Harrah’s Chester was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, and within four months its foray of offerings would be expanded to include slot machines. Now officially a racino, Harrah’s Chester began to flourish, drawing traffic from both locals and those situated in nearby Philadelphia.
By 2010, PA’s state officials enacted a law that approved casino style table games, poker included. Shortly thereafter, Harrah’s would undergo a second transformation, this time introducing a high-limit room, improved amenities, and several oft-kilter table games.
Much of the chagrin of locales, it would be re-branded Harrah’s Philadelphia in 2012.
Harrah’s place in PA’s burgeoning gaming marketplace
For all the good Harrah’s has done for Chester and its 34,000 residents, its eye has always been on capturing the hearts and minds of tourists to and residents of the City of Brotherly Love. And while some might say the gaming company scorned the people of Chester, it’s hard to imagine Harrah’s Philadelphia surviving in PA’s cutthroat gambling scene solely on the backs, and wallets, of its faithful locals.
In all fairness, Harrah’s Philadelphia is situated a mere eight miles south of Philadelphia’s International Airport, and less than a 30-minute drive from downtown Philly. Considering that Parx Casino, which also touts itself as a Philadelphia-based casino, is no closer to Center City, Philadelphia than Harrah’s is, the casino’s decision to re-brand proves even more justifiable.
The early-May 2012 re-grand opening saw several celebrities on hand, including two former members of the hometown Eagles, and world eating champion Takeru Kobayashi. Since, efforts have been made to market the casino less as a gambling facility, and more as an entertainment venue – evident by the recent inclusion of multiple concert and sporting events, as well as an array of new eateries.
Revenue splits comparable to PA’s highest grossing casinos
On the revenue front, Harrah’s Philadelphia holds its own against some of the biggest players in PA’s ballooning casino market.
Home to over 2,800 slot machines, the casino collected nearly $250 million in gross terminal revenue during the 2012-13 fiscal period. Toss in another $80 million generated via table games, and Harrah’s Philadelphia’s annual take comes in at $330 million, which ranks fourth among Pennsylvania’s 11 active casinos.
Harrah’s humble roots were planted during the height of the Great Depression. At the time, founder William Fisk Harrah was growing tired of local authorities harassing him over the legality of his small gambling games.
Amid the frustration, Harrah would leave his home in California and open a bingo parlor in Reno, Nevada. Despite shutting down a mere two weeks after first opening its doors, Harrah’s small parlor would serve as the foundation of a gaming kingdom.
By 1946, Harrah would open his first Las Vegas-based casino. The rest, as they say, is history.
Harrah’s Entertainment encompasses over 50 land-based casinos and 70,000 employees in the US and on international grounds, rendering it the world’s largest corporation of casinos. In 2010, the company was renamed Caesars Entertainment Corp., a decision made to open up new opportunities for the brand. The Harrah’s name remains one of the brands associated with the corporation.
Casino games spread at Harrah’s Philadelphia
While the quantity of slot machines and table games spread at Harrah’s relative to other PA casinos hovers around average, its varied palate of game formats certainly ranks it among the more diversified casinos in the state.
In addition to traditional casino fare like Blackjack, Roulette and Craps, Harrah’s offers popular Asian games Asia Poker, Pai Gow Poker, Pai Gow Tiles, and Sic Bo. Other oft-kilter variants include 21 + 3, the Big 6 Wheel and the rarely spread Three Dice Football.
Harrah’s boasts the only WSOP branded room in Pennsylvania
Neither the largest nor the most conveniently placed poker room in Pennsylvania, Harrah’s does boast the only PA-based poker room bearing the signature WSOP brand, which sets them up perfectly to continue the regulated WSOP.com online poker brand if and when a legal iGaming bill comes to pass in the state.
Mimicking the diversity of its heralded casino floor, Harrah’s poker room spreads a wide selection of game types and formats including Limit and No Limit Hold’em cash games, low-buy tournaments ($50 – $85) and special satellite tournaments to official WSOP events. No Limit stakes range run the gamut from $1/$2 all the way to $10/$25.
The 35-table 24/7 poker room also sponsors several promotion including a Bad Beat, High Hand and a Top 100 Player Promotion, and grants players easy access to the casino’s simulcasting area.
The Harrah’s Philadelphia Advantage
Ultimately, Harrah’s Philadelphia ranks in the upper echelon of PA casinos for several reasons, none of which have anything to do with the casino’s middling size.
For one, Harrah’s makes a point to cater to non-gamblers and gamblers alike. Secondly, any casino brandishing the Harrah’s name is bound to attract the attention of gambling junkets.
But it’s Harrah’s limestone encrusted racetrack that truly sets it apart. Thanks to its location overlooking the majestic Delaware River, horse races at Harrah’s more closely resemble a moving postcard than a wagering event. And that can’t be easily replicated.