Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming was established in 2009 by two industry veterans, Neil Bluhm and Greg Carlin, who formed the Falls Management Company in 1996, the firm that eventually built and opened Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort in 2004. Bluhm and Carlin’s pursuit of the tenth casino license in Illinois culminated in success in 2008, and eventually led to the development of Rivers Casino Des Plaines. Two years later it won one of the two licenses in Philadelphia and the same year it acquired the only casino in Pittsburgh while it was in development. These became SugarHouse Casino and Rivers Casino Pittsburgh.

“All of our casinos are new builds and we tend to focus on urban areas,” said David Patent, president and chief operating officer for Rush Street Gaming. “There are three key things we try to do: Encourage people to be very entrepreneurial while focusing on customer service and team member satisfaction. You can’t market your way to success. You can’t dazzle them with buildings in high-tax frequency markets. You really have to rely on the service you give your customers to bring them back.”

With fewer than ten people at headquarters, Rush Street has a very small corporate staff relative to similarly sized gaming companies. General managers and department heads are “given a lot of latitude to operate,” Patent said. Team members are “equally as important as our customers, so we strive to make our casinos great places to work. If you look at our track record, that’s borne out.” SugarHouse has won four “Great Place to Work” awards; their casino in Des Plaines has won similar awards. “Typically businesses have to be up and running 10 or 15 years before they win these types of awards,” said Patent. “We’re very proud of the fact that our team members have said they love working for us and we try to make sure that we have great benefits and a lot of extras like tuition reimbursement, health care, and a 401k program with matching contributions at a very high level compared to some of our competitors. We just think it’s very important. You want to hire the best and then be able to retain them.”

As a quasi-independent operator competing against some of the biggest corporate names in the casino business, Rush Street goes up against increasingly muscular marketers, who are able to cross-sell the full range of their property assets to high-value players. Rush Street has competed along those lines by forming partnerships with operators on the Strip who are also trying to keep pace nationally: The Tropicana, The Venetian and Cosmopolitan. Royal Caribbean Cruises is another strategic marketing partner.

“One of the things we’ve also done recently to become more competitive is to allow our customers to redeem their points for free play,” said Patent. “That’s actually been a big hit; customers are doing that a lot now. It’s something they told us they wanted, other players in the market were doing that and we’ve been able to accomplish that. In terms of the national piece, we’ll send our players to Las Vegas as well. We’ve got partnership agreements with three diverse casinos on the Strip that cater to different demographics, all with very nice hotels and amenities that our customers get offers from. They can go to Las Vegas, be treated very well, and get free play, food and other comps. I don’t think we’re at a disadvantage at all.”