Valley Forge Casino Resort has carved out a unique identity in a short time. Even though it is only three years old, it’s got traditional pull. Valley Forge Music Fair attracted top talent for 40 years before it closed in 1996, so customers are used to driving to the area to be entertained. And the Valley Forge Convention Center has been attracting business meetings and small conventions since forever. So people have been trundling to Valley Forge for years to shop, meet and be entertained.
And now they can gamble and dine in two restaurants overseen by world class chef Tony Clark!
By Theodore N. Beitchman
The Philly region’s four gambling casinos will do just about anything to entice customers to their properties — and out of the others:
Free food and drinks for big players, free valet parking and other sugar plums like rubbing shoulders with celebrities are common.
But Valley Forge Casino Resort, the area’s newest casino on First Avenue in King of Prussia, pushes the edge of the sports and entertainment envelopes like no other.
Many Philly area bars and restaurants offered their patrons a chance to view last Saturday night’s Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao superfight while they are dining and drinking.
That’s a nice inducement because the charge at home is $99 on pay per view.
But VFCR went all out, anticipating a huge interest in a boxing match for the first time in 20 years.
VFCR provided guests of the casino a chance to watch the fight as they try their luck at a table or a slot machine, or from Center Bar (at left). Every seat on the casino floor had a view of the fight from one of 40 TVs!
If you want to see and hear Frank Sinatra Jr. or Heart later in May or Don Rickles in August, VFCR is the place to go.
And if your taste runs to shopping, VCFR is right down the street from King of Prussia Mall, the largest mall in America, which attracts especially upscale shoppers at Neiman’s and Bloomingdale’s.
And VFCR has one other element that no other casino outside Las Vegas has:
A recognized top chef on the premises overseeing two of the best restaurants on the Main Line.
Tony Clark (left), former chef at Philly’s Four Seasons hotel and at his eponymous restaurant at Broad and Sansom in the late 1990s, is the chef de cuisine at Viviano and Pacific Prime, two first-rate dining spots that offer some of the best white table fare in or out of casinos at very reasonable prices.
In fact, many people come to VCFR just for the Tony Clark food.
All gambling casinos offer the ultimate thrill of victory and agony of defeat.
You can win a lot of money or lose a lot, which if you believe most psychological studies produces the same chemical rush in your brain.
So what separates them is what they offer a customer in areas that don’t involve blackjack or a roulette wheel.
Which is the sweet spot for Valley Forge Casino Resort, the newest member of the state’s casino club, officially opening a little more than three years ago.
VFCR has carved out a unique identity in a short time.
Its location just off I-76 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike draws a clientele that comes from as far as Harrisburg in the west, Philly to the south, and of course Montgomery County, one of the flushest counties in the country.
And even though VFCR is only three years old, it’s got traditional pull.
Valley Forge Music Fair attracted top talent for 40 years before it closed in 1996, so customers are used to driving to the area to be entertained.
And the Valley Forge Convention Center has been attracting business meetings and small conventions since forever.
So people have been trundling to Valley Forge for years to shop, meet and be entertained.
And now they can gamble.
When gaming was legalized in Pennsylvania 11 years ago, Category 3 licenses — VCFR and Lady Luck at Nemacolin in western Pennsylvania — were established for hotel resorts to operate up to 50 table games and 600 slot machines.
(One stipulation of Category 3 is a $10 admission charge, but anyone who comes to dine, be entertained, stays at the hotel or attends a convention gets the $10 waived.)
And VFCR, which employs 1,100 people, rang up wagers of $860 million and gross revenue of $33.8 million during fiscal year 2013-14 (the latest year these results were reported). In addition, it paid the state $37 million in taxes and fees, and Montgomery county and Upper Merion Township $1.7 million each.
VFCR’s size actually translates into an advantage. The gaming area is comparable to staying at a boutique hotel — especially in terms of service
The Radisson Hotel that is attached to VFCR has 326 rooms and is undergoing a top to bottom facelift. The facility also has a total of 1,328 parking spots — most of which are close to the gaming floor — and quick on the uptake valet attendants.
And it is not surprising that the folks who run VFCR — Mike Bowman is the president and CEO — hired an experience gaming exec to be its chief marketing officer.
Jennifer Galle (left) is only 32 but she has a lifetime of experience in marketing, including at Caesars Atlantic City. But it was as vice president of marketing at Horseshoe Hammond, Ind., that she honed that experience.
They call the property “Horseshoe Hammond of Chicago” but it’s really in the northwest corner of Indiana, near Gary, where manufacturing left decades ago and what remains is as blue collar as Chester or Port Richmond.
If you can get gamers to come to Hammond to drop their money, you can do it anywhere!
“Clientele here are different,” Galle said last December, two months after she was hired, as she sat in her office.
“They come for the night out. They are dressed up. Sometimes they’ve been to an event in the convention center or a wedding.”
Or for Smokey Robinson, KC and the Sunshine Band or country star Josh Turner.
“We are hoping to identify new gaming customers who know us as a destination for entertainment.”
Galle has also brought her background in sports marketing to VFCR.
The weekend of our interview brought the Philadelphia Sports and Memorabilia Show to the next-door convention center. So patrons could cozy up to Flyers greats Joe and Jim Watson and Eagles legend Seth Joyner.
“I was surprised with how much we have here,” Galle admits.
“We have almost 200,000 square feet of convention space. It’s the one place that has it all.
The Watsons and Joyner appeal to the more mature gamer, and MMA and UFC live events and pay per view bring in a much younger crowd.”
Because of its proximity to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, VFCR does draw from as far away as Lancaster, “but most of our business is local,” Galle says.
And that’s where sports marketing comes in handy in this sports-crazy market.
In Hammond, Galle developed strong connections with the NHL Chicago Blackhawks, with the casino’s name on dasherboards and LEDs.
“I wanted to blow up the traditional sports sponsorship model,” Galle says proudly. “I wanted to being an immersive experience to the casino.”
“Blowing up” the model included launching a Blackhawks blackjack pit that appealed to Hawks’ fans.
“And the Hawks’ ice girls would come out to Hammond … very popular!”
Galle foresees similar connections with the Philly pro teams and has already reached out.
“Some teams want to do their events here,” she says.
The official release from VFCR said:
“In her new position, Galle will design and execute strategies to enhance loyalty marketing, entertainment, hospitality and player development…. while in Atlantic City she developed partnerships with HBO and the Tribeca Film Festival.
So, don’t be surprised if the next time you head out to VFCR to gamble or fine dine, listen to music or shop, you run into the boys from “Boardwalk Empire” or Robert DeNiro.
And maybe Nerlens Noel, DeMarco Murray and Claude Giroux!