The TVs are the first things you notice after making the long, winding trek to The Book. Twenty glowing flat screens, interlocking like Connect Four squares, morph into one massive video wall and breathe new life into the 4,300-square-foot shadow of an old concert venue reinvented as a sportsbook at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack in Chester.
The Book has been open for only a week, but already boasts a steady stream of regulars. On this day, there is a short line waiting to get their bets in when a guy wearing a Phillies sweatshirt offers some unsolicited, yet sage advice. He comes here every day, preferring this easier commute over the 45-minute drive to Delaware Park. He mainly gambles on basketball, betting on quarter outcomes – and he’s been betting on sports for 40 years.
“Make sure you check your tickets,” he says. “These tellers are a little green.”
And he doesn’t mean Eagles green.
“It’s like day trading to me. I’ll be back here tomorrow,” he says. “This place is great and everyone has been so nice.”
The Book held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jan. 24 when former Eagle Brian Westbrook placed the inaugural bet, $100 on his alma mater, Villanova, to win the NCAA national basketball tournament. It’s been incredibly busy since that day, including a sold-out Super Bowl party and tentative plans for a March Madness event. The sportsbook is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 12 midnight, and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 12 midnight.
I’m chatting with a security guard about the sudden groundswell of hatred around Tom Brady. The conversation furthers my desire to throw a wager down on the Patriots, so I fill out a slip and saunter over to the betting window. Once there, I find out the guy in the Phillies sweatshirt was right. Yes, the tellers are still getting up to speed despite an intensive two-week training program for new employees. Then again, it’s hard to concentrate on anything with those larger-than-life TVs hanging overhead.
“Which team is [Phillip] Dorsett on? I’m sorry, give me one minute to look this up,” says the teller as she checks money line values against straight wagers. “OK, I got it. That’s $114.55 if the Patriots win.”
Taking a few extra minutes to ensure accuracy is fine with me. The Book has a ton of experience backing it since it’s run by Nevada-based Caesars Entertainment, a gambling conglomerate that inked the industry’s first-ever sponsorship deal with the NFL. Senior Vice President and General Manager Chris Albrecht spent years running glitzy casinos in Las Vegas before moving to Philly.
“This is a big opportunity for us to get old and new customers to experience the casino and all we have to offer in a whole new way,” says Albrecht. “We celebrated our 12th anniversary last week, on the day we opened The Book. This is a big day for us and for the property, and hopefully this sets us up for the next 10 years.”
Harrah’s is now the sixth Pennsylvania casino to offer legal sports betting, accenting an already robust gambling operation with additional revenue streams. The Book is an ideal venue for hanging out with friends and watching games, complete with cozy banquettes, 11 high-top tables, 19 lounge seats and a sweeping marble-topped bar.
The bar area has shuffleboard and foosball, along with Xbox game consoles that can be hooked up to the big screens, 45 TVs in total. An adjacent section known as the Party Pit houses seven blackjack tables and one roulette wheel, all within spitting distance of six sleek betting windows. Betting kiosks are visibly absent, but they are coming soon.
“The feedback has been all positive,” says Albrecht. “People have told us this is the best sportsbook experience in Philly, and compares favorably to what is going on in Atlantic City.”
Albrecht’s goal is to become an entertainment destination, more than a lifeless sportsbook buried behind a never-ending maze of slot machines. The casino has partnered with Topgolf on Swing Suite, a golf simulator that provides guests with real clubs and allows them to drive balls at a projection screen in a truly interactive experience. Harrah’s will have three pods that can be reserved ahead of time, perfect for individuals or larger groups looking to blow off steam.
“Swing Suites will be open by President’s Day weekend,” says Albrecht. “You can come over and whack a few balls after you put your sports bets in – and you’ll be able to order food from an app on your phone.”
Hockey, baseball, football and zombie dodge ball can all be simulated on the Swing Suite screens. In addition, Harrah’s is opening a new poker room next week, with 27 tables, high and low limits. They are targeting spring for online table games and online sports wagering, depending on when the state of Pennsylvania approves it. Since Harrah’s is part of Caesars Entertainment, Total Rewards members will earn points for every wager made.
“This isn’t just about The Book itself,” says Albrecht. “We have to continue to use the real estate we have here to attract new customers and keep them coming back.”