Valley Forge: Bringing Vegas to Pennsylvania

On Saturday May 6, 1939 20-year old Eleanor Munafo boarded a train in Philadelphia with her new husband Joseph and headed for the New York World’s Fair for a quick

Depression-era honeymoon. She waited in line after reaching Flushing Meadows on Long Island and after pushing her way through the turnstiles bells rang, she was stopped by the fair president and showered with gifts as the Fair’s 1,000,000th visitor.

Mrs. Munafo’s good fortune was recalled 73 years later when she was given the honor of playing the first slot machine at the Valley Forge Casino Resort, the 11th Pennsylvania casino, on March 30, 2012.

Valley Forge is the Keystone State’s stab at a Las Vegas-style gaming resort. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board issued its first Category 3 gaming license to Valley Forge which stipulates that the casino’s mission is to support the resort. In carving out its niche as a resort destination the facility currently boasts two hotels with 486 guest rooms and suites, a bevy of themed sit-down restaurants and a quartet of lively nightspots.

The $130 million casino was slid in over the exhibition floor of the Valley Forge Convention Center that had been built by Leon Altemose in 1985. Altemose brought the suburban convention center to life for $17 million, using no government money. Over the years the facility became a popular destination for boat shows, outdoor exhibitions, pet contests and home shows.

Target market for Valley Forge

Located in Philadelphia’s affluent western suburbs at the junction of four major roadways, the Valley Forge Casino Resort directs its promotions to both local gamers and the resort market, hoping to draw equally from each. The Schuylkill Expressway flows directly 22 miles from downtown Philadelphia to the casino and Exit #326 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike sits just outside the front door.

With Valley Forge National Historical Park, the cradle of American independence, across the street and the King of Prussia Mall, with the largest amount of retail space in the United States, next door the casino is well-situated to position itself as a resort destination. As the Delaware Valley’s only full-amenity gaming resort Valley Forge can even cater to couples in the market for a fast, inexpensive honeymoon, like Eleanor and Joseph Munafo 75 years ago.

Intimate gaming experience for players

The provisions of its Category 3 license limit the Valley Forge Casino Resort to an intimate 50 tables and 600 slots, making it the smallest of Pennsylvania casinos. While the number of tables and revenue generated from table games at Valley Forge are in line with the Commonwealth’s other small casinos the number of slots available to patrons is far and away the fewest in any Pennsylvania gambling room. Slot revenue in fiscal year 2012-2013 in the Valley Forge Casino – its first year of operation – was $56 million.

The next lowest total was across the state at Presque Isle Downs & Casino where their 1705 slot machines produced $138 million.

On a per-machine basis, however, Valley Forge pulls a comparable income to its three much-larger Philadelphia area competitors. First year numbers exceeded projections on the tables, where the minimum bet is usually $15 and up, but fell short at the slot machines. Overall, the $88 million of gross revenue was about 5% shy of the expected 93.3 million debut year revenue dollars.

Operating under Valley Forge Convention Center Partners

Philadelphia Main line real estate magnate headed an investment group called Valley Forge Convention Center Partners that put in its application to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in 2007. During the public comment period the Board received 114 written comments, only 10 of which were favorable.

In addition to the usual grumbling about the decay of society from gambling many of the objections were traffic-related. It took 19 months and more than $700,000 worth of promised roadway and quality-of-life community upgrades before the gaming license was awarded. Even then the Valley Forge Convention Center Partners had to go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to fend off an appeal by nearby Parx Casino to overturn the Board’s decision.

Gaming veteran Saverio Scheri serves as the investment group’s president and CEO; Scheri has had a hand in opening 12 casinos but this is the only gaming property currently operated by Valley Forge Convention Center Partners.

Monthly poker tournaments

There is no dedicated poker room at the Valley Forge Casino Resort but its Category 3 license allows for the addition of 15 tables for poker tournaments, which are typically held once a month.

Feng Shui inspired casino

From the beginning, management has envisioned Valley Forge Casino Resort as a club-like boutique gaming house. The eateries and gaming floor were created by the nationally recognized interior design firm Floss Barber of Philadelphia who outfitted the casino with a feng shui-inspired design with sensuous curves, clean lines and high ceilings. Table dealers rake in chips while clad in tuxedo-like garb.

Unlike every other casino in Pennsylvania you can not access the gaming floor by walking in off the street. If patrons are not a guest of the hotel a “day pass” must be obtained, either by spending $10 at a resort restaurant or bar or purchasing a $10 gift card for use after gambling. Also convention-goers are allowed access for 24 hours after their event ends free of charge. The one-day access card looks like an everyday credit card with a place for a signature on the back and must be swiped at the entrance.

To stimulate local patronage the casino also developed seasonal and annual membership packages in the $60 to $70 range that included meals, shows, spa days, discounts and other perks. One promotion, called “Lucky Day,” allowed gamblers access to the casino simply by signing up for a free Player’s Club card or buying a $20 gift card that included at least $20 of free slot play. The promotion ran for six months and caught the attention of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board which decided Lucky Day allowed access to the casino without consideration, a violation of the Category 3 license.

Valley Forge Casino Resort, open barely a year, was smacked with a $200,000 fine – the largest ever levied by the Gaming Board.

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.