|By Suzette Parmley, The Philadelphia
InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sept. 13, 2011--The proposed Valley Forge Casino Resort in Montgomery County was deemed enough of a competitive threat that the owner of local gambling power Parx challenged its specialized state license in court -- a process that stalled construction for two years.
That's all ancient history, say Valley Forge's backers, who announced Monday that construction was now proceeding nicely and that the new venue -- the region's fourth casino -- would debut in the spring. That's when patrons will be able to gamble there as long as they stay the night or spend at least $10 at the Valley Forge Convention Center's other amenities, including its restaurants and retail shops.
As the first of two Category 3 resort casinos to open under the state's gambling law -- Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in southwestern Pennsylvania snatched the second such license in May -- only guests or users of the hotel and its amenities, not the general public, can gamble at the casino.
That will differentiate the $100 million-plus Valley Forge Casino Resort from Parx and its other local rivals, SugarHouse and Harrah's Chester, said president and chief executive officer Saverio R. Scheri 3d. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to present to the state Gaming Control Board details of how the casino will monitor access to the gambling floor.
"We're going after those who want the full resort experience," Scheri said.
When it opens, the casino will create 500 permanent jobs, Scheri noted Monday during a media tour of the site.
Real estate magnate Ira Lubert, majority owner of the Valley Forge Convention Center, leads the investor group. Scheri, 45, formerly of White Sand Gaming L.L.C., a consulting and management firm, ticked off the convention center's offerings: 486 rooms among two hotels; 100,000 square feet of meeting, convention, and exhibit space; a giant ballroom; a nightclub; a pool; and a fitness center.
Philadelphia's Cope Linder Architects, which designed the Borgata in Atlantic City and SugarHouse on Penn's Landing, among other casinos, will create the look for the nearly 40,000-square-foot gaming floor, with high ceilings and a feng-shui-influenced design.
The complex in Upper Merion Township will feature two restaurants on the upper level and three smaller restaurants and a center bar, with 600 slot machines and 50 table games -- the maximum allowed under state law for a casino resort -- on the gaming floor. An additional 15 tables can be added for poker tournaments, which the property wants to host, Scheri said.
The Valley Forge area has recently undergone a lodging renaissance, with several hotels undergoing renovations to compete with Center City hotels for meetings and conventions.
The casino will sit directly across from Valley Forge National Historical Park and less than two miles from King of Prussia Mall. Located 18 miles northwest of the city, it will be easily accessible from the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-76.
"We're looking forward to the new product that we'll have to sell, which is always a great thing for a destination," said Paul R. Decker, president of the Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's exciting because I think it's going to be done a little differently than what we've seen in other venues. It's going to represent a little more intimate and upscale opportunity, just in terms of clients and the new business it will draw."
Still, gaming analysts said the casino's size and the constraints on who could gamble there would limit its impact.
"The Philadelphia market is certainly capable of absorbing an additional 600 slot machines," said analyst Andrew Zarnett, of Deutsche Bank A.G. "I don't think 600 machines is a game-changer. While Valley Forge will have minimal impact, it won't have material impact on any of the other Philadelphia operators."
Added analyst John Kempf, of RBC Capital Markets L.L.C.: "I think the existing casinos are predominately drawing from a different geographic area than where Valley Forge will draw." He said Parx, in Bensalem, drew heavily from central New Jersey, SugarHouse from inner Philadelphia and Camden, and Harrah's Chester in Delaware County from South Philadelphia.
"Given the slots/table mix, I can see this casino going harder at the table player than slots," Kempf said. "I'll be curious [to see] how they use the amenities at that site."
For months, Richard Goldfarb has stared out his office window at the Valley Forge Convention Center and the new casino taking shape.
"I am looking at the area getting a lot busier with conventions and gamblers," said Goldfarb, 49, a telecommunications worker, whose office park is next to the casino. "But I'm not looking forward to the extra traffic."
Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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