New Mini-Casino Has COVID Concerns In Mind, But Not The Kind That Deter Opening

Officials from The Cordish Companies say latest technology gives them a leg up on rivals with their health safeguards.
Live! casino exterior

It might seem daunting enough to open one casino during the COVID-19 pandemic, let alone two, but The Cordish Companies views it as an opportunity to showcase the safeguards that new technology can provide.

The family-owned firm’s mini-casino, which opens to the public Nov. 24 in Westmoreland County, will be the first in Pennsylvania to give table games players paper tickets instead of chips for use at other games or to cash out when done playing.

And the 750 slot machines at the new Live! Casino Pittsburgh have hardware installed that, once a player concludes a session, will shut down the device until it is cleaned by staff, casino officials said during a media tour Thursday.

That’s in addition to an air filtration system that regenerates the air 12 times an hour and more extensive plexiglass use than in any comparable facility, they said. Dividers are placed between every machine and separate every table games player from one another and dealers.

“We don’t want anyone getting anything [in the way of illness], not even a cold, so we’re going overboard to make sure you’re in a safe spot,” Live! Pittsburgh General Manager Sean Sullivan said.

Philly property bigger, but with same safeguards

Baltimore-based Cordish Companies, a family-owned entertainment/gaming business with a casino in Maryland, is finalizing preparations for Pennsylvania’s first mini-casino at the same time it completes construction of a much larger hotel-casino property in Philadelphia. The latter is expected to open by February, with similar health precautions from the company’s Play It Safe program.

Combined, the two projects represent some $850 million in investment at a time when uncertainty surrounds the gaming industry due to COVID-created concerns about both health and household finances.

The pandemic delayed construction of the projects by up to 45 days but never made officials hesitant about completion, said Rob Norton, president of the Cordish Gaming Group, the company’s casino affiliate.

“It’s a testament to the company that even through everything with COVID, and with other projects around the country and state coming to a halt, we believe in what we’re doing, and we believe in this community and in Philadelphia, and it ultimately had very little impact on our schedule,” Norton said.

Regional and locals casinos have been faring better than destination properties since the industry reopened in early summer, and that should be to the benefit of Pennsylvania’s new mini-casino concept. The venue replacing a former Bon-Ton store in Westmoreland Mall is on busy Route 30 about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, designed to attract patrons disinclined to drive to the Rivers Casino or Meadows Racetrack & Casino in adjacent counties.

Norton would offer no revenue estimate publicly for what will be the first new casino in Pennsylvania since Lady Luck Nemacolin, a small resort casino that opened in 2013. Four other mini-casinos in the state are in various stages of development, with Penn National Gaming in recent days resuming work on one at a York County mall that is to open in the second half of 2021.

Norton said Cordish mulled various locations around the state prior to its $40.1 million bid at auction in early 2018 to develop the project in Westmoreland County. It chose what it felt was the best site, though the company was also rumored to be a losing bidder for another mini-casino at an auction held this September, which Norton declined to confirm. The winning bidder plans a mini-casino at a State College-area mall.

“It’s a great community,” Norton said of the Westmoreland area, “a large untapped area that we feel was looking for something like a Live! casino. The local leadership has really embraced us coming into town. It feels like they want it as much as we do, and that goes a long way.”

Live! brand seeks to attract more than gamblers

On the media tour, Norton, Sullivan, and Reed Cordish, a principal with The Cordish Companies, proudly showed off different amenities they suggest will make the casino a huge hit for more than just gamblers.

Chief among those is a 45-foot high video wall that spans both the first and second levels of the property as centerpiece of the FanDuel Sportsbook. Multiple sporting events will be shown simultaneously on up to 16 adjacent screens, while viewers can eat and drink on both levels.

The upper level, which lacks any gambling machines or tables, is open to all ages and includes bowling, a golf simulator, and other games accessible to anyone walking in from the mall corridor. That level also has the Sports & Social Steel City restaurant and bar and a PBR Country Bar with a mechanical bull that is to open in 2021.

The downstairs, along with the casino gaming and sportsbook counter and kiosks, includes a Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen + Bar that is also accessible from outside the casino and thus open to those under 21.

The overall aim is to provide plenty to attract young people and families in addition to older gamblers.

“Probably what we are, more than anything else, is an entertainment destination,” Sullivan asserted.

The public will get its first chance for such entertainment at 6 a.m. on Nov. 24, although special invitation-only events will be held between now and then as the new Live! gets underway under monitoring by Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board officials.


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