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The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau Gearing Up to Market Philadelphia's
 Entry into 24 hour Gambling: "Where High Stakes Meet Cheesesteaks"
By Suzette Parmley, The Philadelphia InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Jan. 1, 2006 - With the two winning waterfront casinos selected, city tourism and convention officials are gearing up to begin marketing Philadelphia's entry into 24-hour gambling.

The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau will soon test-market the slogan "Where High Stakes Meet Cheesesteaks" at a big meeting planning trade show this summer to see if it flies.

The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. wants to use the casinos as another tool in marketing the city's nightlife.

"One of the things the casinos will do is reinforce the nighttime aspect for us," said Meryl Levitz, president and chief executive officer of the 10-year-old agency whose mission is to make Philadelphia a premier destination through marketing and image building. "Having casinos is a further cue that the city is a nighttime destination as well as a historic town."

City officials and industry consultants say the strategy is to pitch the casinos as another tourist option, instead of the main draw.

"Rather than a Las Vegas or Atlantic City approach where gaming is the primary attraction, slots gaming in Philadelphia will be one of many types of attractions that the city has to offer," said Peter R. Tyson, vice president of PKF Consulting, which provides consulting services to the hotel and gambling industries. "Obviously, the historical, cultural, recreational, entertainment and retail are just some of the things we already have here.

"You add gaming, you really broaden the appeal and make it appealing to everybody," he said. "You want to gamble, we got it. You want culture, we got it. You want history, we got it. You want sports, we got it. You want it, we got it -- that's the new tagline."

The marketing corporation met several months ago with Foxwoods Development Corp. L.L.C. and SugarHouse Gaming, along with the other applicants for slots licenses in the city and Philadelphia Park, on ways to work together.

SugarHouse plans to break ground this spring on its temporary gambling hall, which is set to open a year later. Foxwoods plans to start work on its $560 million permanent casino in April, with an anticipated November 2008 opening. The debut of the permanent $550 million SugarHouse casino is slated for early 2009.

Danielle Cohn, vice president of marketing for the convention bureau, said the casinos are a nice tie-in to supporting the $700 million expansion of the Convention Center.

During the competition for the two city casino licenses last year, agency officials were outspoken in their belief that the casinos had to offer more than gambling.

"The fact that there are hotels tied to both properties is also a great asset, because our customers are always looking for properties, and, many times, conventions need more hotel rooms," Cohn said. "As you expand the Convention Center, you will need more hotel rooms to support more attendees coming to Philadelphia."

Cohn said a 2005 survey of 25 hotels, mostly in Center City, conducted by the convention bureau, the Center City District, and the Corporate Real Estate Network found that about 40 percent of their questions dealt with nighttime activities and how to get to Atlantic City.

"If you can get a convention attendee or visitor to stay in Philadelphia and spend money in Pennsylvania vs. going somewhere else, that is very supportive of the city's hospitality industry," she said.

Half of the 14 percent city hotel tax is a sales tax and half is an occupancy tax. One percentage point of the 7 percent occupancy tax goes to the Tourism Marketing Corp., 3 percentage points go to the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, and 3 percentage points go to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Authority.

Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, said his group favored having the two city casinos on the waterfront.

"We're excited. We wanted both casinos in close proximity to Center City so they provide additional entertainment," said Grose, who served on the Philadelphia Gaming Advisory Task Force in 2005. "We wanted the casinos to be far enough from the Convention Center, and far enough from our national treasures, like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

"We didn't want the casinos to cheapen our history," he said.

The casinos are a perfect complement to the marketing corporation's highly successful "Philly's More Fun When You Sleep Over" campaign that started in 2002 to spur overnight visitation following the tourism drop-off nationally after 9-11.

Over the last five years, Levitz said, tourism to Philadelphia has increased 55 percent. Now the average stay is 3.3 nights, up dramatically from an afternoon visit. "You can't do Philly in a day," Levitz said.

Levitz said she sees the locations of the two city casinos as a positive. "The casinos add a wonderful possibility of a north-south energy along the waterfront," she said. "They're like two anchor stores in a mall as far as helping to define everything in-between."

Greg Carlin, chief executive officer of Chicago-based SugarHouse Gaming, already has one marketing idea he wants to import. He said the Navy Pier in Chicago hosts weekly firework shows on the river and was that city's No. 1 tourist destination.

"They're a big draw," he said of the fireworks. "There's no reason we can't do something like that for Philadelphia and make the waterfront a real entertainment destination."

Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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