Parx Casino and Racing’s path towards becoming Pennsylvania’s largest gambling complex took root in November 1974, eleven years after Liberty Bell Park Racetrack hosted the Keystone State’s first harness race. Ironically, it would be Parx, then known as Keystone Park, that would soon replace Liberty Bell Park as the area’s premier thoroughbred track.
By the 1970s horse racing was rapidly integrating itself as a part of the Pennsylvanian way of life. In turn, the Delaware Valley became inundated with racing facilities, all of them attracting gambling junkets willing to plunk down $2 for a shot at glory. Residing firmly at the center of all the hoopla was Keystone Park.
In 1984, the Bensalem-based racetrack was purchased by International Thoroughbred Breeders (ITB) and re-branded Philadelphia Park. With ITB at the helm the acclaimed Bensalem Oval was overhauled and the track’s facilities modernized. Most notably, a local television program entitled “Philadelphia Park Live” helped to spread racing awareness, and would serve as the precursor to simulcasting.
Philadelphia Park changed hands once again in 1990, when ITB passed the torch to Greenwood Racing, Inc. In the hopes of drawing a broader demographic, the then old-fashioned racing venue was revamped and expanded.
But by the early-2000s, Atlantic City’s newer casinos, particularly the Borgata, were beginning to hit their stride — drawing Philadelphia patrons who sought casino action away from the Delaware Valley and towards its newly-minted Las Vegas style playground. The Delaware Valley’s horse racing scene was left clinging for life.
Salvation came in the way of an undersized horse named Smarty Jones. Born in neighboring Chester County in 2001, Pennsylvania’s most beloved equine would earn his stripes by winning his first two races at Philadelphia Park. Through his countless victories, which included his triumph at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2004, Smarty Jones reignited interest in the fledgling horse racing industry.
Ultimately Smarty would fail in his bid for a Triple Crown, beaten by a nose by the upstart Birdstone. But the impact of his unparalleled winning streak would live on, evident by the quick passage of the Pennsylvania Horse Race Development and Gaming Act in July 2004 and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s decision to grant casino licenses to six horse racing facilities in late-2006 — one of which would be bestowed to Philadelphia Park.
Three years later, the newly-overhauled racino would be re-branded as Parx.
Parx Casino draws players from NYC to Philly
Nestled in the northernmost tip of Philadelphia, Parx Casino is located mere minutes off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and a stone’s throw away from the New Jersey border. Upon opening in 2009, Parx became one of the first viable gambling alternatives for gamblers residing in New York City and its outlying suburbs – especially those unwilling to make the three hour trek to AC.
A $250 million venue, featuring a 160,000 square foot gaming area, Parx had little trouble making its presence known among residents of the heavily populated Delaware Valley. And given its easy accessibility via I-95, it’s little wonder why the casino continues to flourish in popularity, unlike other nearby casinos that also opened during the recent economic downswing – see Atlantic City’s Revel.
Parx Casino reigns supreme in the Pennsylvania marketplace
Parx Casino has set the standard for which all other PA-based casinos must strive, in large part due to its faithful slot machine enthusiasts. In the 2012-2013 fiscal year gamblers waged over $5.2 billion on slot machines alone, generating over $376 million in gross revenue for the casino. As a mode of comparison, PA gaming powerhouses Sands and Harrah’s Philadelphia failed to break $300 million over the same time period.
Its 3,361 slot machines are the most of any Pennsylvanian casino, but only by the slimmest of margins. Yet in terms of gross revenue, its closest rival – the Meadows and its 3,317 slot machines – pales in comparison.
Parx has also positioned itself as a contender in the table games arena, boasting gross revenues of over $110 million in fiscal 2012-13. Along with Sands, Parx is only one of two PA-based casinos to surpass the elusive $100 million benchmark.
The casino’s lofty revenue take is one of the driving factors behind Pennsylvania usurping New Jersey as the United States second most popular gambling center.
About Parx’s owners: Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment, Inc.
It’s been more than two decades since Parx was first acquired by British bookmakers Bob Green and Bill Hogwood of Greenwood Racing.
Back in the 1990s, Greenwood would add a multitude of cutting-edge improvements to the antiquated Philadelphia Park including a modernized phone-betting system, and six-off track wagering suites (otherwise known as Turf Clubs).
On the heels of the Horse Race Development and Gaming Act, Greenwood Gaming would incorporate as Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment. Today, Greenwood’s operations are presided over by new CEO Tony Ricci – an Oxford Circle native and 18-year vet of the horse racing arena.
Parx’s poker room breaks the mold
Sequestered away from the main casino, Parx’s poker room – Parx East – features 61 poker tables, a full bar, a swatch of HD televisions and dedicated 24/7 food service. Future plans call for Parx East to be expanded into a 100 table room, rendering it far and away the largest poker facility in Pennsylvania.
Parx East spreads a variety of games, ranging from old standbys like $1/$2 No Limit Hold’em to rarely found mixed games like $6/$12 O8/Stud Eight or Better. The back room features stakes as high as $75/$150 on a somewhat regular basis, with even bigger games available by request. As such, recognizable pros and local superstars can be found mixing it up with relative frequency.
Parx’s poker room touts a full palate of low buy-in daily tournaments and exclusive tournament events, such as its fabled Big Stax series. It’s become notorious for drawing gigantic tournament fields, regardless of buy-in or date.
The Parx advantage
Besides residing as the top-grossing casino in Pennsylvania, Parx’s two signature horse racing events – the Pennsylvania Derby and the Cotillion Handicap – both boast million dollar purses.
Poker players prefer Parx because its poker room is isolated in a separate building, away from the bright lights, noise and potential allure of slot machines. That, and the poker room’s central location attracts a myriad of businessmen, most of which are looking to burn off some steam (and donk off some chips) after a long day at work.