Philadelphia Casino Updates: Mims interviews Chris Albrecht of Harrah’s and Justin Moore of Rivers
I want to take you behind the scenes just as we did last week with the view from Circa Las Vegas. This week has a Philly feel to it as you are about to meet two of the top leaders in the East Coast region. I wanted to highlight both for their accomplishments in an innovative way. So, I asked them to consent to be interviewed sharing the same questions and medium. They enjoyed doing so and were able to have a candid conversation during the G2E and our Q/A period. One of the commonalities that they share is they are phenomenal leaders. So, without further ado, I want to introduce Chris Albrecht, GM of Harrah’s Philadelphia and Justin Moore, GM of Rivers Casino Philadelphia.
Chris Albrecht has been the Senior Vice President and General Manager for Harrah’s Philadelphia in Chester since September 2016. He has been in the gaming industry since July 2005. Prior to Harrah’s Philadelphia, Chris served as the Assistant General Manager of the Horseshoe Hammond property, where under his leadership, the property achieved strong financial and service results.
Chris also held the position of Assistant General Manager of Horseshoe Cincinnati where he assisted with hiring 1,700 team members and managed the successful grand opening in 2013. With several years of operational and administrative experience, Chris has also served as the Vice President and Executive Associate to the Central Division President, Director of Compensation & HR Effectiveness at Caesars Corporate office and as the Director of Slots in the Las Vegas Market.
Chris oversees the day-to-day operation of the Harrah’s Philadelphia. Chris earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Justin spent the first sixteen years of his casino and gaming career in the world’s gaming epicenter – Nevada. He began his career in the casino industry in 1999, as a food server in Mesquite. He then joined Station Casinos, the leading "locals" casino and resort company in the Las Vegas valley, where he worked in the areas of food & beverage and slot gaming.
In 2015, Justin was recognized for his wealth of professional accomplishments and named to the Las Vegas 40 Under 40…and in 2016, he was named Mentor of the Year by the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) for his commitment to helping UNLV students learn how to succeed in the industry.
Justin moved to the NY Capital Region in 2017, to take on the role of Vice President of Operations at Rivers Casino & Resort. Just two short months later, he was promoted to Vice President & Assistant General Manager. In April of 2021, Justin assumed the role of General Manager at Rivers Casino Philadelphia.
What was your biggest takeaway from the G2E last month in Las Vegas?
Chris: My biggest takeaway is that the industry is thriving and there will be exciting new products for us to offer in 2022 and beyond. Many of the vendors are making updates and tweaks to their most popular product lines that will certainly resonate with our customers.
Justin: Efficiency. This year was the most productive trip to the gaming show I have had since moving away from Las Vegas. I enjoyed the luxury of less crowds to fight with, so I could experience the games. The G2E team should strongly consider placing a cap for the number of passes that are available for the show in the future.
Cashless wagering was a hot topic in Las Vegas and again at the East Coast Gaming Conference. Do you expect it to gain traction in the next 2 years?
Justin: Yes, I do. The presence of online wagering and the pandemic has made this topic grab the attention of the operators. For many in the industry, this was not a topic that was considered because our players like having cash in hand. Now that most people own a smart phone, adding services like cashless wagering have become a necessary convenience. For many customers, cashless transactions are a bare minimum expectation for consumers.
Chris: Absolutely. I believe there will be a period of both cash and cashless options within the casinos, but cashless is here and growing. We are behind most industries on the cashless front and the growth of online gaming has helped push customer and regulatory comfort with cashless going forward.
The lack of employees is hurting all industries. Do you see light at the end of the shortage tunnel?
Chris: I do see some light. We have witnessed an uptick in applications these past few months but still have a long way to go to get back to pre-pandemic levels.
Justin: Yes and no. I believe most markets will see their open positions reduce over time. Businesses must remember not to apply long term solutions for a short-term problem. Markets that have emerging casinos (like NYC and VA) may have a longer road to recovery considering the human capital demand a new casino will attract.
The concerns about Covid and mandates are affecting the casinos. Have most of your core customers return to playing on property and have you noticed a different in their levels of play?
Justin: We have not fully recovered from the pandemic and the effects the virus has had on our business. We still have city -mandated restrictions like wearing masks when other casinos and attractions in our own market do not have the same conditions. Our market has seen an explosion in the iGaming sector for PA and NJ, a brand-new casino opening, and a smoking ban. When the restrictions are lifted, we expect to see some familiar faces that are loyal to the Rivers Casino brand
Chris: We saw different periods of return from our core guests over the past year and a half depending on their comfort level. It is always great on weekends to see a familiar face you have not seen in some time. While we saw a bit of pent-up demand and play up when we first came back, most guests have settled back into their usual play levels.
The elephant in the room or the city is Live Casino Philly. How has their entry into the market changed the gaming landscape?
Chris: Taking Philadelphia from a 4-casino market to a 5-casino market has certainly changed the landscape. With any new entrant, you would hope they can grow the market overall. We have seen that more on the Tables side than the Slots side so far which makes sense given their location.
Justin: They have grown the market and introduced another competitive option for gambling consumers. Competition is great for the guests because it adds accountability to the operators of the existing casinos. The casinos will all need to make evasive maneuvers by aggressive offers, entertainment, events, and amenities changes. Each casino in our market offers something unique for their guests in their “backyards” that will help them maintain their loyal visits. Innovation and value will be key if the casinos are able to compete for guests beyond their 5-mile radius.
Sports Betting is getting everyone's attention. Describe the experience a customer can expect if they come to your property for the first time?
Justin: They will love our sports book as much as I do. Our BetRivers Sportsbook is a marquee amenity for us. Everything is perfect, from our comfortable chairs to the state-of-the-art HUGE screen. I lived in Las Vegas for 20 years, so I have seen a few of the best sports books in the country and BetRivers is right there with them.
Chris: We are excited to see the growth of sports betting and love having the opportunity to cater to the Philadelphia sports fan at our property. The primary experience for the sports enthusiast is to come to our Caesars Sportsbook with our comfortable lounge seats, giant screen matrix, and over 45 TVs to watch. We also have kiosks and TVs to watch the games at our food outlet, Philly Tap & Tavern, and at our center bar on the casino floor. We also have our relaunched Caesars Sportsbook app to take the fun home with you.
What is your favorite restaurant in Philly?
Chris: So many great choices. I am a fan of several Stephen Starr concepts and as a steak person would have to say Barclay Prime.
Justin: Unfortunately I haven’t ventured into the city too much since moving here 8 months ago. However, I had an amazing experience at South restaurant. The food was amazing, and the atmosphere was top notch. The service I received there was world class, and I can’t wait to go back there again.
What message would you like to convey to your employees and staff as you approach the holidays?
Chris: First and most importantly is a message of appreciation – for not only coming back to our team through a challenging time, but for stepping up and taking on more responsibility to make our property a comfortable environment for each other and our guests. Also, as nice it was to be able to give everyone extra family time last year during our second closure, I look forward to celebrating together through the holiday season and into New Year’s Eve this year!
Justin: Enjoy! The holidays are a special time for us to reflect, love, and share. Live in the moment with those you love the most.
Next Inside view from me to you will come from one of the premiere gaming conferences that is taking place in the Meadowlands and in New York City next week. Follow me at SBC. Tweets on Twitter and photos on Instagram. Happy Thanksgiving!