Gaming veteran Joe Billhimer has joined the Cordish Gaming Group as executive vice president to help launch the company’s Live! expansion into Pennsylvania.
The new properties will include a full-sized casino in the stadium area of Philadelphia and a mini-casino in suburban Pittsburgh at a rehabbed mall site.
Cordish also plans to bid on an available mini-casino license at a Sept. 2 meeting of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB).
New locations a mystery, August targeted for online betting
Billhimer on Monday declined to say where Cordish would like to get the potential new property developed, as large chunks of the commonwealth are off-limits due to a buffer zone around existing properties. And the company has already planted the Cordish flag at both ends of the state.
But before any of that, Billhimer bullishly predicted Live! will have an online casino and sportsbook presence in PA by mid-August, with the approval of regulators.
Industry veteran now on board for Live! PA properties
Billhimer has more than 25 years in the gaming and hospitality industries. He grew up in Toms River, in mid-coastal New Jersey, rooting for Philadelphia sports teams.
Billhimer most recently served as the chief operating officer of Eldorado Resorts in Reno, NV. He had served as president of MTR Gaming in Wexford, PA, before its merger with Eldorado Resorts.
He’s also had stints with Premier Entertainment and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Biloxi, Foundation Gaming Group, Caesars Entertainment’s Grand Casino Resort in Mississippi and Casino Magic Bay in St. Louis. Casino Journal magazine even honored him as “Executive of the Year.”
The new Live! exec took some time to chat with PlayPennsylvania about the brand’s future plans in the Keystone State.
Live! is bullish on Pennsylvania
What makes Cordish bullish about adding a potential third property in PA?
Billhimer: [Cordish] is a very entrepreneurial company. We are looking at opportunities in the commonwealth.
Have you a geographic location in mind for the mini license if you are successful? A bid of at least $7.5 million, plus a location agreement, is required.
Billhimer: As opportunities come up, we’ll give each location a look. There are numerous opportunities. But we respect the privacy of those we are dealing with.
“We don’t look at a site as mini”
Cordish properties aim to be experiences beyond gambling. How can you pull that off at mini sites?
Billhimer: We don’t look at a site as mini. We look at it as an experiential development, a full-fledged destination.
For instance, Billhmer said, in Pittsburgh, there will be a sports gaming area with a two-story screen, entries on both the casino gaming and sports levels, and fine dining.
Straddling the Pennsylvania sports divide
You mentioned that the Pittsburgh teams will be on the sports screen. How will you straddle that sports divide with casinos in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia?
He laughed before answering.
Billhimer: We’ll straddle that line! It will be black and gold in Pittsburgh. They are distinct markets. In Philadelphia, we will be the only casino in the country within walking distance of four major sports teams. And there is a rich heritage in the South Philly neighborhood. It is one of the better casino locations in the country.
Virus and large gathering ban in Philly altered opening plans
What was the effect of the virus on your timetable and plans? Are you on track for Live! Philly, and when do you think it will debut?
Billhimer: The construction companies we are working with took the virus seriously. They did what they could to minimize [the disruption], but it moved our dates.
He expects Pittsburgh to open in “the latter part of the year.” The Philadelphia location, which Cordish had hoped to open before New Year’s, will now open in 2021.
How will Philly’s ban on large gatherings through February affect your plans?
Billhimer: The scale of the opening may depend on the circumstances. We have various plans for various scenarios. The safety of our team and our guests is paramount.
A growing team as Cordish readies for PA openings
Billhimer concluded by saying he is “just honored” to be working for Cordish, a family-owned company. “They look at the long term,” he said. “They are looking for value for the long term. We certainly have a style.”
Rob Norton, president of Cordish Gaming Group, said of Billhimer:
“We make it a priority to hire experts of the highest caliber in the industry, and we have certainly found that in Joe. Under his leadership, we are confident that our new Live! Casino properties will deliver the same unparalleled gaming and entertainment experiences that guests have come to expect at our other Live! branded locations.”
On Monday, Cordish announced in a press release that it has also hired Bill Mikus as vice president of human resources for the two forthcoming PA gaming facilities.