Penn National Gaming floats partnership with city on casino project in South Philly

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady may have a new marquee-name partner in his push for Philadelphia to own a casino on Packer Avenue at 3rd Street in South Philadelphia. Penn National Gaming Inc. told the state Gaming Control Board Thursday afternoon that it is working with Brady on his casino concept for the 27-acre former Food Distribution Center.

In a news release Thursday afternoon, the company called that possibility an "exciting opportunity," predicting a "near term announcement on these plans."

Bob Brady at a press conference earlier in November. Photo by Sara Khan.

Penn National, which operates a casino at a horse racing track in Grantville, outside of Harrisburg, filed an casino license application Thursday afternoon for a lot it controls four blocks west on Packer Avenue at 7th Street. That application made clear the company may add the city to those plans or scrap them for a city partnership on Packer Avenue at 3rd Street.

The state Gaming Control Board set 5 p.m. Thursday as the deadline for applications for the city’s available casino license.

Here’s how the Penn National-city partnership might work:

The city owns the 3rd and Packer lot, controlling it with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC). Penn National, because it already owns a controlling stake in a casino, can only own up to one-third of a second casino, according to the state gaming law.

Mayor Nutter, who says he thinks a city-owned casino would violate the state Constitution, could tell PIDC to transfer control of the land to Penn National. Or City Council could approve a “transfer ordinance” to give Penn National the land if Nutter balks.

In return, Penn National would put up the money to pay for the gaming license and build the project, taking one-third of the profits after the casino opens. Brady previously proposed a referendum on the May 2013 primary election ballot, asking voters to borrow $500 million to pay for the casino. That referendum would no longer be necessary.

The city’s casino profits would be received through a new non-profit organization -- an effort to ease Nutter's concerns about ownership -- and used to fund the Philadelphia School District and the underfunded municipal pension plan.

City Council President Darrell Clarke on Thursday called Brady’s concept “interesting” but said he would “like to see us keep the existing timeline” for casino applications. Five companies are expected to file applications Thursday afternoon for the casino license.