Tuesday, July 28, 2015

All casino, all day: State Gaming Control Board hears 6 pitches from casino applicants

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is hearing pitches all day Tuesday from the six investor groups that applied in November for Philadelphia's available casino license. The hour-long pitches are being heard at the Pennsylvania Convention Center by a standing-room only crowd that includes attorneys, lobbyists and gambling opponents.

All casino, all day: State Gaming Control Board hears 6 pitches from casino applicants

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The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is hearing pitches all day Tuesday from the six investor groups that applied in November for Philadelphia's available casino license.  The hour-long pitches are being heard at the Pennsylvania Convention Center by a standing-room only crowd that includes attorneys, lobbyists and gambling opponents.

PhillyClout will be updating all day as the casino applicants present their plans.  Tuesday's hearing is information-only, with the board not planning to ask questions.  Two public input hearings will be held in Philadelphia on April 11 and April 12.

Market8 -- Up first is the investor group led by developer Ken Goldenberg for a surface parking lot on the southwest corner of 8th and Market streets in Center City.  The local investors has partnered with the Mohegan Sun company that operates casinos in Pocono Downs and in Connecticut.

Goldenberg pitched the casino project as the best option for access to pedestrians, mass transit and car traffic for a site surrounded by historic sites that attract tourists and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.  He called the project, “A world class vibrant multi-dimensional urban entertainment center with a casino at its core.”  Goldenberg and fellow investor Willie Johnson, a politically connected local businessman featured in a jazzy pitch casino, emphasized the project as the "home team" in Philadelphia.  Goldenberg owns 49.950 percent of the proposal; Johnson owns 2.265 percent.

Stadium Casino LLC -- a joint-venture between The Cordish Companies in Maryland and the company that runs the Parx casino in Bensalem, the project is pitched for Packer Avenue at 9th Street in South Philly. That would pair the project with XFinity Live, an entertainment venue Cordish already operates nearby on Pattison Avenue.  The project signed Merit Management Group of Chicago to manage the casino.

Cordish Managing Partner Joe Weinberg said the Stadium District Live Hotel and Casino, as the project is called, would offer unusual access to nearby professional sports stadiums and live music acts at those venues.  Weinberg noted that his company, privately owned for four generations, helped develop Baltimore's Inner Harbor.  "We are owner-operators and we are in complete control of our operations, singularly focused on their success," he said.

PA Gaming Ventures LLC -- The most unconventional of the six applicants, this is a joint-venture between Penn National Gaming and the Philadelphia Casino Benefit Corp., a new non-profit set up to meet U.S. Rep. Bob Brady's goal of having the majority stake in a local casino benefit the city's public schools and municipal pension plan.

Penn National operates the Hollywood casino outside of Harrisburg.  By state law, a company that owns more than 50 percent of one casino can only own up to one-third of a second license.  So the project, known as Hollywood Philadelphia, would be 66.6 percent-owned by the non-profit but operated by Penn National.  Penn National has applied for a site on Packer Avenue at 7th Street but also has an interest in a city-owned location a few blocks east at 3rd Street.

Steve Snyder, Penn National's senior vice president for corporate development, called the ownership split "unique...not something that you're accustomed to."  Joe Domenico, a 31-year veteran of the casino business, is currently the only board member of the non-profit.  Domenico said the non-profit board will act as an independent monitor of profits to make sure the cash meant for public education the the pension plan reaches those "critical needs."

PHL Local Gaming LLC -- Joseph Procacci, who built a South Philly empire peddling produce, is pitching "Casino Revolution" on Packer Avenue at Front Street.  He partnered after the November filing deadline with Dr. Walter Lomax and his family.  Procacci will own at least 60 percent of the project while Lomax has 9 percent and can add more.

The group relied on a video of South Philly residents and business people, talking about how the casino project could help the city.  Joe Canfora of Merit called Procacci and Lomax "true visionaries" and leaders in Philadelphia.  Lomax started as a doctor in South Philly, made a fortune with contracts to provide prison health services and now manages a company that has real estate and other holdings.

Bennett Lomax, son of Walter Lomax, said the project was the "least intrusive" of the six applications because it is located at the meeting of I-95 and I-76. He said customers would not have to travel through neighborhoods to reach the casino.

Wynn PA Inc. -- The Gaming Control Board in 2010 revoked the city's second casino license from a group of local investors who planned to build on the Delaware riverfront in South Philly, a few months after casino developer Steve Wynn took over the stalled project and then walked away from it all.  He's back, now applying for the license with a plan to build on the Delaware riverfront in Fishtown.

Wynn joked about the "litany of love stories" about Philadelphia that previous applicants had described.  He said casinos outside of locations like Las Vegas are usually "homely," places of convenience designed to generate profits and state taxes.  Wynn said the reason Pennsylvania approved casinos in 2004 was to create taxes, jobs and tourism. He promised to avoid the "developer speak" that the day has already seen while explaining how he would accomplish those goals.

Wynn vowed to build a hotel with 300 mini-suites, a place that would draw convention goers and draw business away from "the enemy," Atlantic City.  He said the riverfront property would be "deliciously" landscaped and family-friendly, with plenty of places to wander that had nothing to do with the casino floor.

Tower Entertainment -- Developer Bart Blatstein wants to open The Provence in the former headquarters of The Daily News, Inquirer and Philly.com on North Broad Street at Callowhill Street.  Blatstein is partnering with Isle of Capri, a casino company, to operate the project.

Blatstein, struggling to follow the Steve Wynn show, cracked jokes about his career starting at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, growing into a real estate developer from residential to commercial properties and then finally his "mid-life crisis" in a $200 million project in Northern Liberties that resulted in The Piazza at Schmidts.

Blatstein followed a similar pattern of the first five applicants, speaking about his casino project as though the gaming floor was just one element of a larger package that would include a botanical garden, private swim club and spa.

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About this blog
William Bender, a Drexel graduate who landed at the Daily News in 2007, has covered everything from South Philly mobsters to doomsday hucksters. He occasionally writes about local food trucks and always eats everything on his plate, whether it be a bloody rib eye or a corrupt politician. E-mail tips to benderw@phillynews.com
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David Gambacorta, has been a reporter with the Daily News since 2005, covering crime, police corruption and all of the other bizarre things that happen in Philadelphia. Now he’s covering the 2015 mayor’s race, because he enjoys a good circus just as much as the next guy. He’s always looking to get a cup of coffee. Send news tips and other musings on life to gambacd@phillynews.com
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