At dusk on a recent Monday, Hugo's Frog Bar & Chop House – a white linen chain steakhouse with roots in Chicago – soft-opened in its new home at Fishtown's SugarHouse Casino to a crowd of an invited guests .
As executive chef Terry White's thick ribeyes and petite filets flew out of Hugo's newly-anointed kitchen, the buzz heard throughout the dining room was deafening: what do you think about SugarHouse's $164 million expansion, and how will its new, intended level of sophistication change its game?
On May 9, the ribbon was cut on that expansion which first broke ground in July 2014, one that, as designed by Cope Linder Architects of Philadelphia, increased SugarHouse’s 108,000-square-feet to 260,000 with additional gaming areas (44 new table games, 289 new slots, a 28-table poker room). In addtion to Hugo's, non-gaming amenities include an Event Center (featuring performances from the likes of Daily Show host Trevor Noah and ex-Eagles member Don Felder), Geno’s Cheesesteaks, Saxbys Coffee, Tacconelli’s Pizzeria, and more.
All this, and there's a seven-story, nearly 600,000-square-foot parking garage – all to the delight of SugarHouse General Manager Wendy Hamilton, its CEO Greg Carlin and everyone involved in the expansion since the casino was first awarded a gaming license in 2006.
“When they were licensed, SugarHouse had a plan in place to construct a casino (opened in 2010), monitor market conditions, then decide when to expand facilities to suit customers' needs,” says Doug Harbach, Director of Communications at the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.'
The watchful eye over all Pennsylvania casino business including Parx in Bethlehem, Valley Forge Casino in King of Prussia and the currently-stalled Live! Hotel & Casino project at 900 Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia's stadium district, states that everything went according to Hoyle when it came to expanding SugarHouse.
“Just like its original structure, the plans for extension were reviewed by the board and hearings were held throughout the community successfully,” Harbach says. “We don’t just hold hearings in boardrooms. We go into the community; hear from the public about how effectively the casino is operating there.”
To date, SugarHouse is being a good neighbor as well as a good local business.
Community groups such as Penn Treaty Special Services District, the African-American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ, & DE, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Fishtown Action and the Philadelphia Fancy Brigade Association of Mummers – all voted “for” in license renewal and expansion hearings between 2011 and 2015.
“Indoor parking helped – that was extremely beneficial – as was new food outlets, conference rooms and the possibility of additional jobs,” says Harbach.
He noted that, since March 2016, Live! Casino in South Philly has been “on hold, due to litigation,” after its parent company, Stadium L.L.C. and its application to operate a casino hotel (which was appealed by SugarHouse HSP Gaming L.L.P.) was sent back to the PGCB by the state Supreme Court to more closely inspect the company's ownership structure. “Nothing new to report,” says Harbach, who refuses to comment on what could be an outcome regarding Live!.