Live!, a new South Philly casino, opens in the middle of COVID-19

After more than five years — through two presidential administrations, two Philly mayors, the Eagles winning the Super Bowl and firing their Super Bowl-winning head coach — plans for a massive casino and hotel near the South Philadelphia stadiums are coming to fruition.

They’ll finally be fully realized next month, when Live! Casino and Hotel Philadelphia opens its doors to the general public and becomes the second major casino within city limits.

Members of the media got a sneak peak of the 510,000 square-feet, $700 million facility during a tour Thursday.

Rob Norton, president of Cordish Gaming Group, the casino’s developer, began by acknowledging the “elephant in the room:” that they were opening a palace of in-person pleasure while the coronavirus pandemic rages and officials continue to beg people to stay at home.

Norton said he’s confident the facility’s temperature guns, plastic separators, air filters, and other safety measures will keep patrons safe.

“While almost all other businesses are struggling just to keep their doors open we’re opening and creating new jobs,” he said. “We’re proud to be in that position.”

Live! Hotel and Casino on Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia’s Stadium District. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Built for thousands, casino pivots to solo experience

The casino’s vast floor is stocked with more than 2,100 slot machines, 121 table games, and a dedicated poker room.

Televisions the size of movie theater screens play live sports. Hungry patrons can choose from a dozen eateries and bars. There are upscale options, as well as burger and taco restaurants operated by Guy Fieri.

In normal times, the casino and hotel could see thousands of people drinking, playing, eating, and carousing at once.

But it will open with far fewer than that initially, allowing no more than five people per 1,000 square feet in order to comply with Philadelphia’s pandemic restrictions.

In fact, much of the casino is currently laid out to prioritize the solo experience: slot machines are walled off by plastic guards, and gamers can play electronic versions of blackjack and roulette that minimize in-person interaction.

When pressed on why casino management doesn’t simply wait until the pandemic abates to open, Cordish Gaming Chief Marketing Officer Jake Joyce said their schedule was driven by altruism: the casino has already hired about 1,200 people.

The longer that we wait to open, it’s less of an economic impact to our community,” Joyce said.  “It is not just jobs — those [workers] go to grocery stores; they dry clean their clothes. It’s a positive ripple effect as we open.”

Management said they will pay all workers — it expects to hire about 2,000 when it’s fully operational — at least $12 an hour.

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