Parx Casino & Racing came into being in 1974, when Keystone Park became the second horse-racing venue in Pennsylvania. The property has since gone through several names and owners before being bought by Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment in 1990. That company modernized the aging racetrack and has overseen the transformation of the location from struggling horse-racing track to thriving racino.

Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment has done a marvelous job, but they also had a bit of luck.

Their luck began in 2004 when Triple Crown contender Smarty Jones captivated the country. The horse won the first two races of his career at Parx, which was Philadelphia Park at the time.

However, the buzz surrounding Smarty Jones was only going to buy Philadelphia Park, and the rest of the Pennsylvania horse racing industry, a little bit of time, especially when his Triple Crown bid came up short. The horse finished second at the Belmont. But Parx ownership caught another break when the state legalized slot machines in July of 2004, just a month after Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown bid fell by the wayside.

Following the passage of the Pennsylvania Horse Race Development and Gaming Act of 2004, Greenwood began transforming the track into a full-fledged racino. Parx was licensed by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on September 27, 2006, and construction began immediately.

Who could forget Smarty Jones?

On July 4, 2004 Governor Ed Rendell stood in the Winner’s Circle at Philadelphia Park, now known as Parx Casino and Racing, and signed into law Act 71, the Pennsylvania Horse Race Development and Gaming Act, that brought slot machines and casino gambling to the state. The Bensalem track was the natural pick to be the symbolic location to enact the landmark legislation.

First, the gambling law was intended in part to revive the Pennsylvania horse industry, both at the race track and in the breeding shed. The equine industry in the Commonwealth is second only to cattle and milk production in importance as an animal agricultural industry.

Horse-related businesses pump over $10 billion into the Pennsylvania economy each year. In fact, the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association is credited with drafting large swaths of the gaming act.

Second, Philadelphia Park, which began life in 1974 as Keystone Park, is the state’s premier racing plant. When it opened it replaced Liberty Bell Park as Philadelphia’s thoroughbred track. The then 11-year old Liberty Bell Park was a harness track onto which a one-mile thoroughbred oval was jerry-rigged when flat racing was legalized in the state in 1968.

Liberty Bell closed in 1986 and is now the foundation of the Franklin Mills mega-shopping center. Keystone Park was gone by then as well, at least the name. It was changed to Philadelphia Park in 1984.

Philadelphia Park was also home to Pennsylvania’s two biggest thoroughbred races – the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby for three year-olds and the Grade I Fitz Eugene Dixon Cotillion Handicap for three-year fillies.

Fitz Dixon was a Philadelphia sportsman and investor in all the city’s professional sports franchises; he was owner of the Philadelphia 76ers when he lured Julius Erving from the American Basketball Association in 1976 for $6.6 million – almost as much as he paid for the entire franchise that same year.

Third, Philadelphia Park had never experienced more notoriety than it did during 2004, thanks to an undersized colt named Smarty Jones.

Smarty Jones was sired in nearby Chester County in 2001 and won his first two races as a two-year old at Philadelphia Park. The track became home base during his three-year old campaign as he remained unbeaten. Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby by 2¾ lengths and captured the Preakness Stakes as well.

With a chance to become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, Smarty Jones was the talk of America; he had never been beaten, never even been passed by another horse.

The television ratings for racing were the highest in decades and his wild popularity was one of the main reasons the Pennsylvania Horse Race Development and Gaming Act sailed through the legislature.

More people turned out to see Smarty Jones race for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes than had ever attended a sporting event in New York. The chestnut colt led nearly every step of the way in the one mile-and-a-half race until he was caught at the wire by a hard-finishing long-shot named Birdstone.

Smarty Jones not only lost his first race but was injured and retired. He never had a chance to race in his home track’s premier race, the Pennsylvania Derby.

Parx’s Market: Delaware Valley and New Jersey

Parx Casino opened in 2009 and perched on the northern boundary of Philadelphia rapidly became Pennsylvania’s number one casino.

The facility spreads across 430 acres just off Exit #51 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In addition to the 6.1 million potential gamblers in the Delaware Valley, New Jersey gamers can easily reach the racino via I-95 south from Trenton and by the New Jersey Turnpike from North Jersey.

Located in northern Philadelphia, Parx Casino has the geographical advantage of being in a major metropolitan area, as well as having quick access to major highways leading to heavily populated areas of nearby states.

Because of its location, Parx draws visitors from all across Pennsylvania, as well New Jersey and New York.

This prime location has helped Parx become one of the top revenue generating casinos in the state, rivaled only by Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.

Revenue not an issue for Parx

Parx Racing and Casino is Pennsylvania’s top-grossing gaming operation, mostly on the backs of slot players. The $376 million generated in fiscal year 2012-2013 by its slot machines was higher than the total revenues of all but one of the state’s other casinos.

The 3361 machines on the Parx gaming floor are more than any other casino but not that much more – the Meadows has only 44 fewer slots but produces $135 million less in revenue. By contrast Parx also has the most gaming tables in the state but they generate less revenue than Sands Bethlehem.

Parx ownership and its partners

In 1990 Bob Green and Bill Hogwood, veterans of England’s lively bookmaking wars, purchased the racetrack and it has operated under the banner of Greenwood Racing ever since.

After buying Philadelphia Park the new partners moved quickly to establish the country’s best phone-betting system. In the 1990s Greenwood constructed six off-track betting parlors around the Philadelphia suburbs known as Turf Clubs.

Even as it has expanded its business into casino gambling the now Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment adheres to its roots in the racing business. When probing expansion it historically has sought partners.

In the 1990s Greenwood purchasing Freehold Race Track in New Jersey with Penn National Race Course and is currently applying for the last Pennsylvania gaming license with Cordish Company that operates Maryland Live! casino near Baltimore, Maryland.

Inside Parx Casino

License allowances and restrictions

Parx Casino & Racing is the holder of a Category 1 (Racino) license, one of six racinos in the state of Pennsylvania. As an existing racetrack, Parx is required to host live races at least 100 days per year in order to maintain their license.

The Category 1 casino license allows Parx to house up to 5,000 slot machines and 250 table games on-property.

Recent proposals in the legislature would allow Parx to open off-track betting (OTB) sites in the state. If this measure passes, Parx and other operators could house up to 250 slot machines at each of these locations (each location would cost $5 million), so long as they don’t exceed their 5,000-machine maximum.

The gaming floor

The gaming floor at Parx is huge. It encompasses 160,000 square feet and features over 3,000 slot machines, 100 table games, and a state of the art 80-table poker room according to the Parx Casino website.

Parx has more slot machines on property (3,362 according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s tally) than any other casino in Pennsylvania, and only Sands Bethlehem boasts more table games.

Parx poker room is also the largest in the state and widely considered to be the best poker room in Pennsylvania, and among the best in the eastern United States.

Parx East’s poker room

Long-range plans at Parx Casino call for a full-amenity hotel-casino-entertainment complex with a 100-table poker room. For now, however, the Parx’s 61 poker tables, the most for any Pennsylvania gaming facility, are housed in a separate building from the main casino, called Parx East.

The well-reviewed poker room features daily tournaments, a dedicated food menu with service available 24/7 and special events such as Big Stax, a no-limit Texas Hold’Em tournament that habitually attracts the region’s best players.

Parx is known for its large purses

Parx Casino offers the standard fare found at all Pennsylvania racinos – just a little bit bigger and a little bit more. And how has the Pennsylvania Horse Race Development and Gaming Act that was signed into law in the Winner’s Circle delivered for the horse racing industry?

Monies in the neighborhood of $200 to $250 million flow to Pennsylvania horsemen each year.

Purses at Parx have grown exponentially. Both the Pennsylvania Derby and the Cotillion Handicap are now million-dollar races. Fans who want to see the best horses from around the sport beat a track to Parx Racing and Casino.

Parx Casino and iGaming

Parx Casino is going to be a part of regulated online gambling should it come to Pennsylvania, but don’t count on the casino to push for internet gaming expansion.

Parx Casino Chairman Bob Green has taken an apathetic approach to iGaming expansion in the Keystone State, consistently indicating he’s not quite sold on its benefits and fears cannibalization of brick-and-mortar revenue. Green adds a caveat to these concerns by saying, if iGaming is coming to Pennsylvania, Parx will be a part of it.

Despite its qualms, Parx has already procured an online gaming partner in GameAccount Network, one of the few official partnerships between an online gaming company and a Pennsylvania casino that has come to light.

Potential for a Parx online poker room

If and when an online poker bill passes in the state legislature, you can bet Parx will be a major player. With pockets that deep, they’d have minimal limitations on launching a brand new online gambling client.

The only issue, maybe, is its competitors will have the experience and online poker branding that Parx—at this moment—does not.

Image CC BY-SA 3.0

Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock

Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.