By Kevin Noonan
Photos by Butch Comegys
Like most new owners, they wanted to make the place their own. They wanted to put on a new coat of paint and replace the carpets and change the furniture and make things brighter and shinier and, at the same time, warmer and cozier. But they didn’t just want to make it different — they wanted to make it better.
For the first time since 1995, Delaware Park Casino & Racing has had a major facelift that allows it to keep pace with many of its new neighbors. In this case, though, it wasn’t a matter a keeping up with the Joneses as much as keeping up with the Ballys and Borgatas and Harrahs and Sugarhouses and all of the other, mostly-newer casinos in the mid-Atlantic region.
“That’s always the case, no matter what business you’re in,” says Terry Glebocki, who took over as general manager at Delaware Park in March. “You need to be competitive, you need to be current, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
Delaware Park was owned by the Rickman family for 38 years until they sold it to the Clairvest Group and Rubico Gaming LLC, a private equity firm, in 2021. And that’s when the decision to spend $10 million to revamp the casino was made.
Glebocki was hired in the middle of the renovation process (completion is schedule for mid-July). She has more than 30 years of financial management experience and her last job was as chief operating officer at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City. In her almost-two-year stint as CEO, Ocean Casino became profitable after years of losing revenue. In her final year at Ocean Casino, the business posted a gross operating profit of nearly $25 million, after losing $12.4 million the previous year.
Part of that dramatic turnaround — which is even more impressive since it came during the Covid pandemic — was to refurbish and update the casino. While Glebocki was CEO, Ocean Casino spent $15 million on the property to improve the casino and other amenities. So, she understands the process through which Delaware Park has been going.
“What I learned the most from my last job is that the people who really know what needs to be done are your guests and your employees,” she says. “And if you ask them, they’ll tell you how you can make it better and how you can make it fit their needs. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing here.”
Looking to the Future
It goes back to competition. Delaware Park’s casino opened before casino gambling was legal in Pennsylvania and Maryland, so the monopoly they once enjoyed is gone. Plus, more and more people are sitting at home and playing casino games on their cell phones and other devices.
Statistics released by the American Gaming Association show what an impact legalized gambling in Pennsylvania and Maryland have had on Delaware. In 2022, the First State earned $491.8 million, an increase of $1.8 percent from the previous year. However, Pennsylvania earned $5.3 billion, an increase of $10.6 percent, and Maryland brought in more than $2.2 billion, an increase in 14.3 percent. And in the fourth quarter of 2022, Pennsylvania’s revenue rose 8.4 percent and Maryland’s rose 34.8 percent, whereas Delaware’s revenue fell 3.7 percent.
That mostly-positive trend has been felt around the country. In the fourth quarter of 2022, commercial gaming in the U.S. had a revenue of almost $15.9 billion, an all-time high and an increase of 1.7 percent year-over-year. The two other legs of the casino stool — sports betting and iGaming — also had record profits.
“Our industry significantly outpaced expectations in 2022,” says Bill Miller, CEO of the American Gaming Association. “Simply put, American adults are choosing casino gaming for entertainment in record numbers, benefitting communities, and taking market share from the predatory, illegal marketplace.”
But Delaware Park still has to fight for its share of the legal marketplace, and there are plenty of other casinos fighting for those gambling dollars.
“We think the biggest challenges right now that casinos are facing is the saturation in the market and the economic downturn,” says Gina Mancino, the casino’s vice president of marketing. “Saturation means that there are so many options for casino gambling in Pennsylvania and Delaware and, as a result, we need reasons for guests to choose Delaware Park Casino & Racing.
“We rely on guests to visit and use their entertainment dollars here to enjoy their choice of gaming,” Mancino adds. “With the cost of gas, housing and food skyrocketing in the past several months, guests have fewer entertainment dollars to spend.”
Plus, they have more places to spend them. Add in the fact that many people got used to staying at home during COVID, and it was clear to Delaware Park management that it couldn’t conduct business as usual. The racing side of the business remains unchanged and the brew pub won’t be affected, but patrons will notice a definite difference when they walk through the casino.
“The new ownership group, along with our president and general manager, felt strongly that a renovation and property refresh was critical to the overall success of Delaware Park Casino & Racing,” Mancino says.
“Our goal is to make the property more modern and comfortable for our
existing guests, as well as to attract new guests that have not yet visited the casino. Additionally, we wanted to add new amenities and offerings to attract new audiences and VIP guests.”
Behind the Times
Once the people in charge at Delaware Park decided an upgrade was essential, they hired an architect from the center of the gambling universe — Las Vegas, Nev. And in case you doubt Paul Heretakis’ Las Vegas credentials, the building where he works is located on Dean Martin Boulevard.
Heretakis has decades of experience redesigning and rejuvenating casinos, and as soon as he walked into Delaware Park, he knew what the problem was.
“It was very old and faded a bit, and right away we’re thinking about how we can modernize this place and give the customers a better experience,” Heretakis says.
But what kind of experience? Heretakis says that’s the key question, and the first one he asks himself whenever he evaluates a new client.
“Who do I want to be?” Heretakis says. “It’s OK to be McDonald’s — they make a lot of money. So, really, who are you? What do your customers want?”
The answer, of course, is not McDonald’s. Delaware Park isn’t spending $10 million to renovate so they can serve McRib sandwiches once a year. This was a necessary and inevitable move that pushes the Stanton casino into the 21st Century.
And to make that move, Delaware Park and the professionals who designed and executed the recent renovations used public opinion and feedback to guide their process. To Heretakis, that was a refreshing approach.
“A lot of the times, the [casino owners] are all about ego,” he says. “They’re rich guys who know nothing about their customers. I don’t think anybody ever told the customers that your opinion matters.”
Despite the flashing lights and glitz of a casino, most of their comments were about simple things.
“They want comfort, they want cleanliness and they always want great service, and that’s something that doesn’t change,” Glebocki says. “Convenience is important, too. They want convenience to the amenities — to their food and beverage, to the rest rooms, to parking. Those things are very important.”
One thing they did was double the size of the VIP bar. And there’s another small change that could have a big reaction from bettors — slot machines will mostly be clustered in carousels instead of stretched out in long rows as has been done historically.
“Patrons really don’t like sitting in long rows of slot machines,” Glebocki says, “so with the carousels we have a lot more spacing and there’s a lot more room between you and the person at the next machine, rather than under the old traditional style.
“Everything changes,” Glebocki adds. “Styles change, and what was here worked for many, many years. But I think it was time for a nice facelift, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”