New casino opens in Valley Forge

The ownership group of the newly opened Valley Forge Casino Resort at the Valley Forge Convention Center in King of Prussia gets ready to cut the ribbon with William Ryan (3rd from right), chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Saturday, March 31, 2012. The owners are (from left) Richard Aljian, Barbara Evans, Michael Heller, Ira Lubert, Chairman Ryan, Ken Kochenour, Jon Lubert. ( Clem Murray / Staff Photographer )
The ownership group of the newly opened Valley Forge Casino Resort at the Valley Forge Convention Center in King of Prussia gets ready to cut the ribbon with William Ryan (3rd from right), chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Saturday, March 31, 2012. The owners are (from left) Richard Aljian, Barbara Evans, Michael Heller, Ira Lubert, Chairman Ryan, Ken Kochenour, Jon Lubert. ( Clem Murray / Staff Photographer )
Posted: March 31, 2012

Real estate magnate Ira Lubert grabbed a giant pair of scissors Saturday to signal that Valley Forge Casino Resort was officially open for business as Pennsylvania's 11th - and smallest - casino.

"It's been great to work with this group," said the elusive Lubert, the casino's chairman who heads Lubert-Adler Partners, L.P., as he was flanked by other casino investors. "I think now it's finally time to cut the ribbon."

With that, William Ryan, chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, presented Lubert a framed casino license amid applause and cheering just after 11 a.m.

The $165 million casino in Upper Merion Township sits next to Valley Forge National Historical Park and two miles from King of Prussia Mall. It features 600 slot machines and 50 table games - including blackjack, craps, roulette, and Pai Gow poker - with the option of adding 15 tables for monthly poker and blackjack tournaments.

As the first of two "casino resorts" to open in Pennsylvania, Valley Forge is required by law to have an "access plan." Gambling will be allowed to patrons of the Valley Forge Convention Center who spend at least $10 at any of its restaurants, bars, and retail shops, or stay at one of the center's two hotels, or use the spa.

Anyone attending a meeting, convention, or other event at the Convention Center also can enter the casino, as can those with seasonal or annual memberships, ranging from $20 to $69.

"I like to play poker, so I plan to test it out," said John Sollenberger, 59, of Downingtown, who was among those who opted to spend the minimum to enter the casino. After paying $10.60 for a mushroom burger at the food court, he was handed a plastic casino access card - which resembled a credit card and good for one day - that he signed on the back.

"If I like it, I'll come back next time and get a membership card," he said.

Sollenberger then used his access card to get through one of the electronic gateways to the casino floor and made a beeline for the table games. All the dealers were sporting their new uniforms: a bright red long-sleeve shirt, black vest and black pants.

Some expect the addition of the Valley Forge casino to intensify an already competitive regional gambling landscape. The newest casino joins SugarHouse on Penn's Landing, Harrah's in Chester, and Parx in Bensalem as the fourth gambling venue within a 29-mile radius.

In addition, the $2.4 billion Revel Casino opens on the Atlantic City Boardwalk on Monday to begin an eight-week "soft opening" preview.

Management predicts the Valley Forge casino will hold its own. Before the doors opened officially at midnight, close to 500 waited in line Friday night to get in. Within the first hour, the casino had double that number inside, said its president and chief executive officer Sal Scheri.

"We're thrilled," he said Saturday, as he walked the gaming floor to welcome customers. "It [the access plan] has not been an issue at all. People are learning it quickly and getting acclimated to it."

The new casino features seven new restaurants, including four that are sit-down venues - Pacific Prime, Viviano, Valley Taven, and Nosh Deli; three micro-restaurants (Asianoodle, Italian Market, and American Grill), and an entertainment venue (7 The Nightclub). The circular Center Bar, lined with LED flatscreen monitors, sits in the heart of the gaming floor.

"I think it's well thought out," said Lois Cosentino, 68, of Havertown, who sat next to her husband, Michael, 70, playing penny slots just before noon. The couple had a annual membership to the Convention Center that was given to them as a gift from their daughter.

"It's smaller than I thought and more intimate than most casinos," she said. "But it's great locally. I would assume it will get people going to the mall and be a big boost to the two hotels."


Contact Suzette Parmley at 856-779-3844 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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