Seasoned gaming veteran Joe Billhimer was named executive vice president of Cordish Gaming Group two years ago to direct the expansion of the company into Pennsylvania with the opening of the Live! Philadelphia and the mini-casino Live! Pittsburgh. Building the Philadelphia project during the pandemic was a challenge but well worth it, as both casinos have achieved remarkable success over a very short period. Billhimer spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros in a suite on the top floor of Live! Philadelphia in September. (Listen to complete podcast above or see video below).
GGB: Let’s talk about the location of Live! Philadelphia and what it was designed to be.
Joe Billhimer: Well, we are in the Stadium District of the city that has stadiums and arenas for the four major professional sports, and I believe we have transformed the Stadium District into a great place to come watch sports. This is a full resort destination with a tremendous location right off I-76 and right off I-95. We have great access in and out. We wanted to create in the Cordish style a great resort destination in a regional market.
What’s it like when there’s a football game across the street?
It’s controlled chaos in the Stadium District. When the Eagles play, they sell out, so there are a tremendous number of fans who go through this facility on game day. We also have Phillies, Sixers and Flyers game days a lot more often, but an Eagles game day takes on a special meaning and requires a lot of preparation from our team members.
You’ve got some beautiful rooms in this hotel. How has your ADR and occupancy rate been?
Our occupancy rate and our ADR have been well beyond our expectations, even during the pandemic. Obviously, we have a great spot here from a regional standpoint, but even locally we get a lot of staycations here. We haven’t gone after the four-diamond status yet but we certainly are a four-diamond type property. It’s as nice a hotel product as there is in Philadelphia in the luxury set.
You’ve also got some very nice meeting space. How has that been received?
It’s been working great. I don’t want to keep going back to pandemic, but that first eight or nine months was very difficult to attract groups. But since then, the city of Philadelphia as well as our property have seen a revitalization of that segment. We’ve been continuously booking, and our 2023 is looking great. We’re starting to even see repeat groups coming back now because they know what to expect. And on the sports side, it’s a great way for a public company to host a board meeting. We have a group come in from St. Louis when the Cardinals are playing here. They have a meeting and then go to a game. It’s been a great sales tool for us.
How has the sportsbook worked for you and your deal with FanDuel?
We were really looking for the integrated experience, not only just being a sportsbook, but being a sportsbook that had the amenity of sports and social and food. Our Sports and Social bar and restaurant is a new concept from the Cordish Group. It’s part of that DNA of the game day experience. On game days, we have a DJ and a lot of activity around it, so you feel like you’re at the game. And putting those two together has been tremendous in our partnership with FanDuel, just on the retail side of sports betting. And despite all the online activity, there’s still something different about coming into the facility and making that bet.