Eric Pearson, chief executive of the 483-room Valley Forge Casino Resort, is going on a shopping spree, buying 60 new slot machines to accompany a $6 million refurbishment of the hotel, expected to be finished in March.
“We have purchased in the past three months more new slot machines than we did in the previous almost five years combined," said Pearson, 34, who started in October. “Five years is a long time to play the same game, so we’re bringing in new product."
Valley Forge’s new slots will be variations of the current type because those are the ones permitted under Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. But in the wider world of gaming, change is underway.
What are the new games like?
Skill-based slot machines are a merging of video games that you play for fun, whether on your smartphone or computer, and that slot machine experience. So your skill can have an effect on the outcome. It’s like if you play Tetris or Candy Crush, if you have more practice and you’re a better player, you can improve the outcome through your skills.
Anything else that’s new?
There’s a game I played where you hold a controller and it feels like an Xbox or PlayStation controller. It’s a shooter game. You’re a robot and you’re running around a whole arena. There are other robots and you’re shooting your blaster beam at these robots. Based on how many robots you tag, that determines your payout.
What’s the competitive landscape for Valley Forge? Besides the casino and hotel, you have a lot of restaurants, meeting and concert space, plus that beach club. But it never seems like a glamour draw to me.
We’re not high luxury, and it’s not a goal of ours, either. You have properties like the Bellagio (in Las Vegas) that are all about the epitome of luxury. Then you have properties where luxury is not the focus, but they provide a great experience and a quality product, and that’s more of what our set is. The property is an interesting complex. We have a healthy balance of where our revenues come from.
What do you like to play?
If there’s a new slot machine that’s out, I’ll usually try that out. If I’m out with my friends, usually we’ll play blackjack or roulette or craps.
You employ 1,000 people at the casino. Is the tightening labor market affecting you?
For a five-year-old casino, we have an incredibly professional experienced table game staff; they’ve been dealing cards for a very long time. A good amount of our table staff lives in the Atlantic City area and commutes in.
What about the rest of the staff, servers, housekeepers?
We have a lot of competition for, especially, our line level staff - our servers, folks that work in our retail outlets, in a restaurant, housekeeping, front desk. That's because the country’s biggest mall is literally a stone’s throw from our property. There’s a tremendous amount of restaurants and all of this infrastructure coming in, a lot of service-based stores. So, we compete with all of those businesses with that labor market.
What advantages do you have, or disadvantages, in attracting staff?
One of the biggest advantages we have here, and I think my career is a good depiction of this, is the integrated casino resort business. Almost anything you could be interested in doing, we have the position in that field. We have accountants. We have trades people that do welding, electrical, and plumbing. We have people that work in the hotel side. We have retail. We have entertainment. We do shows. So, we have people that do rigging, and sound design, and book entertainment.
Can you move up from the bottom, even without a college degree?
Absolutely. So, for me, as I was saying, I started out busing tables.
Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.