The Casino File: Looking back at a year unlike any other for Pennsylvania, Atlantic City casinos
See-through barriers separate gamblers and a dealer at a card table at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, N.J., on July 2, 2020, the first day it reopened after being closed for four months due to the coronavirus outbreak. Wayne Parry | Associated Press

The Casino File: Looking back at a year unlike any other for Pennsylvania, Atlantic City casinos

The havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic was deep and unprecedented and will likely have an effect on the local gaming industry for years to come

As 2020’s reign of terror as arguably the worst year in American history winds down, this is as good a time as any to review the past year in the casino-gambling realm in Southeastern Pennsylvania and Atlantic City.

Normally, such a wrap-up would be heavy on recalling the best entertainment offerings, restaurant openings and similar upbeat subjects. But the global contagion put a kibosh on all of that, and the biggest story of the year is clearly the virus’ awful effects on gaming halls in both jurisdictions. These include government-mandated closures and massive layoffs: As you read this, Pennsylvania’s casinos are prepping for Gov. Tom Wolf’s just-announced three-week shutdown of operations scheduled to begin 12:01 Saturday morning (Rivers Casino Philadelphia has been shuttered by a city mandate since last month). And at one point early in the pandemic, Harrah’s Philadelphia and Parx accounted for more than 3,000 lost jobs while Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa terminated 40 percent of its workforce earlier this fall.

But while arguably the 800-pound- gorilla of regional gaming biz stories, the world-altering pandemic wasn’t the only story:

Live! Philly lives

The still-raging virus may have delayed the planned opening, but it didn’t cause the plug to be pulled on the $700 million Live! Casino-Hotel Philadelphia going up next door to Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia. The project is targeted to debut by the end of March with a 12-story, 208-unit hotel, numerous bars and restaurants including two outlets from Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives overlord Guy Fieri and a full-service casino (and 29-seat poker room) that will be ventilated by a state-of-the-art air filtration system and protected by other COVID-inspired safety strategies.

Westward Ho!

While Baltimore-based Cordish Gaming Group, the majority-owner/managing partner of Live! Philly was busy preparing for 2021 in South Philly, out in the left-hand part of the Keystone State, it cut the ribbon on Live! Casino Pittsburgh, which opened to the wagering public on Nov. 24 in a shopping mall in the suburbs of the Iron City.

Bally’s finally rescued

Also in November a small-but-growing Rhode Island-based gaming chain called Twin River Worldwide Holdings placed a bet on Atlantic City by closing its $25 million purchase of Bally’s Atlantic City. Under the aegis of previous owner Caesars Entertainment Corp., the 41-year-old, mid-Boardwalk casino-hotel—AyCee’s third legal wagering parlor—had lost much of its luster, except for its Wild Wild West casino/party space, a popular weekend destination for the younger set.

But the new owner, which has assumed the corporate brand Bally’s Corp., has pledged to invest at least $90 million to make the property competitive (the way these things tend to work is the final investment is often significantly higher than the originally announced figure).

Raising the steaks at Resorts

Although the financials of the deal are nowhere near those mentioned above, it is nonetheless noteworthy that Resorts Casino Hotel, whose most recent upgrades have centered on its affiliation with Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville brand, has partnered with the Dougherty family, whose holdings include AyCee’s two most-iconic eateries, Dock’s Oyster House and The Knife & Fork Inn. Their Resorts project, expected to debut in the spring, will replace Gallagher’s Steakhouse.

See you next year!

As this is the last Casino File column of 2020, let me take this opportunity to wish all of you a wonderful holiday of your choice and a 2021 filled with light, life, love, good health and nothing but winning bets!

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