New name, broader reach for Harrah’s Chester

Ron Baumann, general manager of Harrahs Chester Casino & Racetrack, which officially becomes Harrahs Philadelphia on Saturday, said of the name change, Philly is the market we are after. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Ron Baumann, general manager of Harrahs Chester Casino & Racetrack, which officially becomes Harrahs Philadelphia on Saturday, said of the name change, Philly is the market we are after. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 13, 2012

In an effort to expand its reach as regional casino competition intensifies, Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack becomes Harrah’s Philadelphia Saturday.

The name change, part of a rebranding that includes nongambling offerings, has everything to do with the casino’s reaching a broader audience, and nothing to do with distancing it from its host city, said Harrah’s general manager Ron Baumann.

“It’s all about how you define the market. Philly is the market we are after,” he said during a tour of the casino this week.

He likened it to the New York Jets and New York Giants, New Jersey teams that use the New York name to link with the bigger market.

Baumann said the goal was to extend Harrah’s reach from patrons mostly from within a 10-12 mile radius to those from 20 miles away or more. Harrah’s competes primarily with SugarHouse on Penn’s Landing, Valley Forge Casino Resort, and Delaware Park in Wilmington. Last month, the former Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack generated $22.4 million in gross slots revenue, down 7.6 percent from April 2011. It was the largest percentage drop among four Pennsylvania casinos that posted declines. “We’ve been flat. We want to grow and know we can grow,” said Baumann.

Chester Mayor John Linder said Caesars Entertainment Inc.’s move to drop “Chester” from the name “was a slap in the face initially” when it was disclosed weeks ago. Linder said he and the community have come around. After all, he said, the Philadelphia Union soccer team, whose stadium is in Chester, doesn’t use the city’s name, either.

“From a marketing standpoint and a national and international standpoint, a lot of people don’t know where Chester is,” said Linder. “Most people know where Philly is. If that’s what gets them more people, there will be increased employment opportunities for the people of Chester.”

Chester gets 2 percent of Harrah’s annual gross slots revenue, or $10 million a year, whichever is greater, and another 1 percent of table games revenue, the state Gaming Control Board said. Linder said the money has gone toward education, debt reduction, and a program that lowers Delaware County Community College tuition for Chester residents.

Harrah’s has paid more than $131 million in city and county taxes since opening in January 2007, the company said, and made more than $1.5 million in charitable contributions.

When table games were added in mid-July 2010, the casino more than doubled its staff to 1,800 employees, and brought in Baumann.

On Friday, Baumann marked the name change and rebranding with a ribbon cutting. In addition to three new restaurants, there are 200 new slot machines to bring the total to 2,800. Entertainment, increasingly important at the region’s casinos, is being ramped up, too. Lynyrd Skynyrd performs Saturday to start the summer concert series.

“I like it,” Amera Allison, 34, of Bear, Del, said of the changes as she and her mother got in line at the casino’s Temptations Buffet this week. It is being redone in the $10 million rebranding.

Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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