Cue the drumroll: Pennsylvania’s first mini-casino has its closeup Tuesday, Nov. 24, with a full formal opening after a week of dress rehearsals with a limited audience.
The debut event of Live! Casino Pittsburgh also marks the brick-and-mortar entrance into the PA gaming market for The Cordish Companies of Baltimore.
Doing so early meant introducing the Live! brand and a linked rewards card to the market, Rob Norton, leader of Cordish Gaming Group, told PlayPA on Thursday during a phone interview.
Cordish also is nearing the opening of the full-sized Live! Casino Philadelphia in the Stadium District of South Philadelphia. An opening in early 2021 is projected. All of the PA Live! entities share the Live! rewards card, which is also used at Cordish’s Maryland property.
The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily slowed work on both projects. But the delay is now over for Live! Pittsburgh.
Live! Pittsburgh mini-casino first mall-based casino in PA
The Western PA casino will also be the first repurposing of vacant mall space for gaming use in the commonwealth, but not the last. Another mini-casino is set for the York area, in Morgantown, and perhaps there will be a fourth near State College to follow. A fifth remains in limbo.
The retail rehab is a first in PA for gaming, though card rooms in other jurisdictions, particularly Texas, have filled vacant retail space for some time.
Jack Cleveland Casino, downtown in the Ohio city, was a notable earlier mall conversion that opened in 2012.
And Virginia voters just approved a plan to renovate an entire moribund mall in the city of Bristol, which borders Tennessee. The Hard Rock Bristol Hotel and Casino could open in late 2022.
Cordish does not consider Live! Pittsburgh “mini”
Norton said the goal was to present a “full-sized experience” — experience being the foundation of Cordish developments for decades.
He pointed out that the Live! Pittsburgh property is “bigger than many casinos all over the country, especially in the Midwest.”
“We couldn’t be happier or more excited. The casino looks great and the experience is a game-changer.”
According to Norton, the property is more of a redevelopment than a conversion. And the property has worked to create a synergy with existing retailers. The second floor of the building connects to the mall and allows those under 21 years old into the building while keeping the casino off-limits.
The facility features Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen + Bar, the Sports & Social Steel City and PBR, a country-themed bar and restaurant.
Health and safety precautions paramount at Live!
Norton said the soft opening has allowed the facility to spread out the opening rush and allow VIPs to tour the casino without crowds.
As a unique safeguard, slot machines shut off when a player is finished until a Live! employee sanitizes the machine and reactivates it, Norton said.
The HVAC system turns over the air six times more often than required, said Norton, and the casino has many barriers set up.
Norton said leaders at the new casino are in close contact with county health officials, who are aware of the precautions Live! is taking. And the opening night celebration on Tuesday will take place with strict safety precautions.
Cordish already conducted a soft opening to go with the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 17. A split of gambling proceeds from the evening benefitted local charities, the Westmoreland County Foodbank and Sage’s Army. (Images provided by Live!/Cordish.)
Location and what to expect at Live! Pittsburgh
The Western PA Live! is a $150 million facility. The Cordish affiliate Stadium Casino Westmoreland RE, LLC developed the property.
There are more than 100,000 square feet of gaming, dining and entertainment space, with 750 slots and approximately 30 table games. The suburban casino has more than 6,000 parking spaces. Sports bettors will be happy to find a FanDuel-branded retail sportsbook.
The property is the second Pittsburgh-area casino, competing against Rivers Casino Pittsburgh. Officials in Alleghany County just issued a stay-at-home order, and work on a hotel affiliated with Rivers is stalled.
In Philadelphia, the Live! Casino will also compete against the same company, Rivers Casino Philadelphia. New restrictions due to the virus’s re-emergence mean Rivers Philadelphia will close its doors until at least Jan. 1.
But there is so far no stay-home order in nearby Westmoreland County, home to Live! Pittsburgh.
Economic impact, new jobs east of Pittsburgh
The Live! project should generate more than $188 million in annual economic impact, plus an additional $148 million in economic impact from construction.
Annual taxes will likely be about $47.5 million.
Live! should provide about 500 permanent new jobs. The company paid about $32 million in estimated new wages and salaries (direct and indirect) during construction.
Mini-casino concept did not quite pan out as planned
Western Live! is the first of what once was envisioned to be 10 such properties spaced out some distance from full-sized casinos.
But PA successfully auctioned off just five satellite licenses. In all, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board collected $114 million in license fees.
Live! had hoped to buy a second mini-casino at auction in September, but they were bested by a $10 million bid that should mean Philly investor Ira Lubert will develop a property, likely at a struggling mall outside State College, PA.