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Casino Applicants Pitch For Last Philly License

Applicants for Philadelphia’s second and final casino license made glossy pitches Tuesday to state officials, who had revoked Foxwoods’ claim on the prize when its project stalled.

Tom Grill, Getty Images

The six petitioners include casino mogul Steve Wynn, a local developer who bought the Philadelphia Inquirer building, and the company that owns Xfinity Live, an entertainment complex near the city’s sports stadiums.

Half of the applicants would build in the South Philadelphia stadium district, while the others would put the casino downtown, on the Delaware River waterfront or at the former newspaper site.

The presenters pledged not to build drab “slots in the box,” but instead envision glittering complexes with hotels, restaurants and live music venues.

And they promised thousands of construction and permanent jobs, and more than $100 million annually for state and local tax coffers.

“You can’t get people to come to Philadelphia unless the hotel rooms are special,” said Wynn, amid photos of his planned 900-square-foot luxury suites. “If it happens to have a gaming room attached to all of this to pay for it, we’ve got a winner.”

The state’s 2004 law legalizing casino-style gambling authorized 14 casinos, including two in Philadelphia. Currently, 11 casinos are operating in Pennsylvania, four of them in the Philadelphia region.

The city’s SugarHouse Casino is up and running, but the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board revoked Foxwoods’ license in 2010 when it failed to get the project off the ground.

While neighborhood groups vocally opposed various casino sites the first time around, no protesters turned out for Tuesday’s public meeting at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Public hearings, though, are planned for April.

Penn National, based near Reading, already operates a casino in central Pennsylvania, so it’s limited to one-third ownership in a second casino. The company therefore devised a novel plan to form a nonprofit corporation that would hold a two-thirds stake. The nonprofit’s split would fund education and municipal pensions in Philadelphia, both chronically underfunded.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Penn National Senior Vice President Steven Snyder, who hawked the public benefit of the plan for a 13th Hollywood casino near the stadium.

Wynn, the Las Vegas-based entrepreneur and 1963 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, pulled out all the stops. He deployed a Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin-Bing Crosby soundtrack to accompany the slideshow of his proposed project along the Delaware River waterfront, in the city’s gritty-but-increasingly hip Fishtown neighborhood.

“Anybody coming to Philadelphia for a convention will want to stay there,” said Wynn, who called Atlantic City, a regional gambling rival, “the enemy.”

Cordish Companies, which owns Xfinity Live, has paired with Greenwood Gaming to propose a Live-brand casino hotel they said would yield 2,000 direct and indirect jobs and $130 million in state and local taxes.

And local developer Bart Blatstein — who has revived the area near Temple University and the city’s Northern Liberties section through mixed-use development — hopes to build a casino complex around the Inquirer building, with its iconic white clock tower. Blatstein bought the property two years ago.

The two other local proposals came from Joe Procacci, who founded a Philadelphia-based wholesale fruit and vegetable distributor, and developer Ken Goldenberg.

The seven-member Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is expected to take months to award the second Philadelphia license.

 

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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