A talk with Gregory Carlin of SugarHouse Casino

Posted: January 28, 2014

It has been a busy month for the folks at SugarHouse Casino. On New Year's Eve, the company brought 2014 in with a bang - literally - by bankrolling the fireworks on the Delaware River. The casino also sponsored the Mummers Parade.

Then, actual business interfered.

On the downside for Gregory Carlin, 47, chief executive of the casino, were hurdles erected by Pennsylvania gaming regulators to the casino's plan to build a temporary poker facility in advance of its $155 million expansion slated for 2015.

On the upside, the board decided to allow SugarHouse to participate in hearings, which begin Tuesday, on the suitability of a second city casino.

"We believe the market is saturated," Carlin said. "We think a second casino won't grow the market much, and will be negative for all the existing casinos."

Question: Are the stakes high?

Answer: Any time there's discussion about a second casino license in Philly, the stakes are high - not just for SugarHouse, but for the industry and the commonwealth. Overbuilding the market is not beneficial to anybody. Just look at Atlantic City.

Q: Do you have a favorite casino in Atlantic City?

A: The problem is that I'm friends with a lot of guys that work in Atlantic City.

Q: You grew up in Chicago and live there now. What's your Philly connection?

A: I went to the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton. I actually went to Atlantic City a lot more than an undergraduate should go.

Q: How did you do?

A: I had my good days and my bad days like anyone else.

Q: Tell me a bad one.

A: In college, I can remember driving back from Atlantic City, with nothing, scrambling for pocket change at the Egg Harbor toll and literally having a paper due the next day. Then the elevator got stuck. So, stuck in the elevator, with the paper due, flat broke and completely busted from Atlantic City - that was a pretty bad night.

Q: OK, how about good?

A: I remember having enough money to take everybody out for a great dinner.

Q: Competition is everywhere - New York, Atlantic City, Chester and Bensalem, even online. And your expert has testified that another city casino would cut your revenues by 25 percent. Isn't it a risky gamble to spend $155 million on an expansion?

A: Good question. To be competitive, we want to have the amenities. We want to build a nice parking garage. We believe that if we expand, our revenues are going to grow.

Q: How do you figure?

A: We'll appeal to more people, because we'll have more restaurants, we'll have more events, more entertainment. There's going to be more reasons to come here.

Q: Does casino design make people gamble?

A: We don't think of it in terms of what makes people gamble. We think of it in terms of what makes people stay here longer. Some say you want to make the gaming floor confusing, so [people] don't know where they are going.

Q: That's how SugarHouse used to be.

A: I didn't agree with that school of thought. We want people to know where they are. You can see the exits and the entrances. People feel more secure when they know where they are. When we did change our floor from confusing to more ordered, with better sight lines, business improved.


GREG CARLIN

Title: Chief executive, Rush Street Gaming L.L.C., parent company of SugarHouse Casino.

Resides: Chicago.

Family: Wife, Marcy; two daughters.

Diploma: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton.

Business Partner:

Neil G. Bluhm.

Resume: Investment banker until hired by Bluhm to manage his family's investments.

Connection: Attended high school with Bluhm's son, became friends at Penn.

Favorite game: Craps.


SUGARHOUSE CASINO

Size: 108,000 sq. ft.

Slots: 1,602.

2013 slot revenue: $180.8 million,

down 5 percent.

Tables: 58.

2013 table revenues: $84.8 million, up 1 pct.

Employees: 1,100.

Expansion plans:

Add 258,000 sq. ft., for more restaurants, entertainment space, and 30 table games, 30 poker tables, 400 slots, plus a 1,500-car garage.

Cost: $155 million.

Expanded employment: 1,600.


MORE ONLINE

Gregory Carlin on the misery of micromanaging.

www.inquirer.com/jobbing


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen

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