CEO of casino brings ex­pe­ri­ence to the job

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Gary Puleo gpuleo@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Mus­tangMan48 on Twit­ter

Val­ley Forge Casino Re­sort is cur­rently cel­e­brat­ing its fifth year in busi­ness, which makes the glit­ter­ing First Av­enue bet­ting house and en­ter­tain­ment mecca more of an ado­les­cent than a tot.

No one is bet­ter equipped to of­fer that anal­ogy than CEO Eric Pear­son, the fourth com­man­der of the King of Prus­sia get­away that opened its doors at 12:01 a.m., March 31, 2012.

The vet­eran of Ve­gas and the river­boat gam­bling scene is well aware that he in­her­ited a renowned icon that is still grow­ing and evolv­ing in many ways.

“When you first open a prop­erty it takes time to fig­ure out the mar­ket you’re in what your cus­tomers re­spond to,” Pear­son said. “You start with a set of as­sump­tions about what you think your mar­ket will pro­duce, what you think your cus­tomers will like, but it does take a few years to un­der­stand the re­al­ity of what’s hap­pen­ing. I think this prop­erty has gone through that process, to un­der­stand what our cus­tomers are look­ing for, what ser­vices we need to pro­vide. And in the ini­tial years you see a lot of change. And so, five years in, I think we’re tak­ing strides in our ado­les­cence now. As far as ev­ery­thing we of­fer in our food court and steak house, the dif­fer­ent con­cepts that we want to roll out, we have a good un­der­stand­ing of who our cus­tomers are, what they want, and we can now make sure we’re of­fer­ing the right types of ameni­ties and give peo­ple what they’re look­ing for.”

At the out­set of Pear­son’s reign last Oc­to­ber, the casino re­sort’s flag­ship eatery, LP Steak — which launched the year be­fore by chef Luke Pal­ladino — gave way to Rev­o­lu­tion Chop House.

It was the third steak house con­cept to de­but since Val­ley Forge Casino Re­sort made its grand en­try with Pa­cific Prime.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult to com­pete in this area be­cause there are a lot of great restau­rants all right around us,” Pear­son said. “Rev­o­lu­tion Chop House has a nice mix of steaks, seafood and Ital­ian items. It’s im­por­tant for us to have a good mix of din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences for cus­tomers. If you want to come for a quick slice of pizza, we have that, and if you want to come out for a nice din­ner for a spe­cial oc­ca­sion, we’re cov­ered. The Val­ley Tav­ern has great pub food, and right now we’re sit­ting in our food court, and we have three out­lets here, for some­one who may want a quick bite to eat, and that’s where the food court re­ally comes in. Plus, in our steak house we want to have an el­e­vated din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for our guests as well, so that we can have some­thing for every­one.”

Soon, the food court will wel­come a new cof­fee venue to re­place the lim­ited Star­bucks of­fer­ing, Pear­son noted.

“We have Star­bucks cof­fee but we never had a full blown Star­bucks here. In an anal­y­sis I did I re­al­ized one of the things we were miss­ing was a re­ally good cof­fee out­let, so it’s one of the things I’ve been work­ing on since I got here,” he said.

Grow­ing up in the gam­ing world in the small town of Laugh­lin, Nev., Pear­son seemed des­tined for a life of help­ing oth­ers in lay­ing their odds in style.

“Laugh­lin is about 90 miles out­side of Las Ve­gas on the Colorado River, where Ne­vada, Ari­zona and Cal­i­for­nia all come to­gether,” Pear­son noted. “There are about 10 casi­nos there. My mom was a cock­tail wait­ress for 25 years and my dad was a food and bev­er­age ex­ec­u­tive. I started as a teenager bus­ing ta­bles at a casino steak house and have been in the busi­ness ever since.”

Pear­son re­called mov­ing on to park­ing cars at the Grand Vic­to­ria river­boat casino in El­gin, Ill.

“The best job I ever had was park­ing cars. I worked there sum­mers in be­tween go­ing to Ari­zona State,” said Pear­son, who soon swapped out toil­ing in the non-gam­ing ameni­ties for the casino floor it­self.

“It was in a divi­sion that doesn’t ex­ist any­more … you had these slots money run­ners who would es­sen­tially fa­cil­i­tate the flow of coins and cash through­out the casino,” said Pear­son, whose ca­reer path led him to man­age­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties at the MGM Grand on the Ve­gas strip and even­tu­ally to Fox­woods Re­sort in Con­necti­cut .

“And then I came here,” noted Pear­son, who de­scribed the typ­i­cal Ve­gas gam­bler as a dif­fer­ent type of cus­tomer than you’d find at Val­ley Forge Casino Re­sort.

“In Ve­gas, ev­ery three days we would es­sen­tially get a whole new group of cus­tomers,” he said. “And lots of times it was their first time vis­it­ing your prop­erty, and most times it was their last time, be­cause when peo­ple go back to Ve­gas they stay at dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties. Here it’s very dif­fer­ent. We’ll see the same folks some­times sev­eral times a month. When you’re a lo­cal casino you can’t just rely on hav­ing a big res­i­dency show for en­ter­tain­ment for years. We have to con­tin­u­ally of­fer new things.”

Rein­vest­ing in the King of Prus­sia prop­erty has al­ways been a pri­or­ity and Pear­son in­di­cated that he will con­tinue that phi­los­o­phy, as he has with the re­cent com­ple­tion of a $6 mil­lion re­mod­el­ing of the casino tower’s 156 guest rooms.

“If we just made that ini­tial in­vest­ment and kind of skated on that we re­ally couldn’t ex­pect peo­ple to keep com­ing back. We’re not do­ing that. So we con­tin­ued to in­vest in our non-gam­ing ameni­ties,” he said. “We have very large con­ven­tion and meet­ing space fa­cil­i­ties and a lot of those guests stay at our Radis­son Ho­tel. Casino cus­tomers tend to stay at the casino tower, so the cus­tomer mix here is a little dif­fer­ent. The tower ex­isted long be­fore the casino opened, and with the re­mod­el­ing I think it’s one of the finest ho­tel prod­ucts in the mar­ket.”

GARY PULEO — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Val­ley Forge Casino Re­sort CEO Eric Pear­son in the kitchen area of one of the newly re­mod­eled suites in the casino tower.

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