Donald Trump sued the state Gaming Control Board in federal court this afternoon for rejecting in 2006 his bid to build a casino on the site of the former Budd Co. plant in Nicetown with a group of investors*. Trump’s lawsuit, filed in the state’s Middle District in Harrisburg, accuses the board’s members of violating the U.S. Constitution's protection on interstate commerce.
The board, while considering five applicants for two casino licenses in Philadelphia, weighed whether casino operators with properties in Atlantic City would attempt to recruit customers here and then divert them there. Pennsylvania’s casinos are taxed at a rate of 54 percent. Atlantic City’s casinos are taxed at a rate of 9.25 percent. “The board has considered the fact of competing Atlantic City properties as a negative factor for licensure in Philadelphia,” the Gaming Control Board wrote on Feb. 1, 2007 about its Dec. 20, 2006 decision. The board singled out Trump, who has three Atlantic City casinos, noting his company had recently emerged from bankruptcy and could “lure patrons… to assist in the rebuilding and revitalization of properties there.”
Trump is asking a federal judge to overturn the state-awarded gaming licenses for SugarHouse in Fishtown and Foxwoods, which was approved for a South Philly site but is now considering relocation to the Gallery at 11th and Market streets. The lawsuit says Trump and his investors spent more than $10 million in planning for their Nicetown location and were rewarded with a “discriminatory criteria” from the board that wasn’t part of the 2004 state casino law. That, the lawsuit continues, gave an unfair advantage to applicants with no business in Atlantic City.
Trump’s action today is the first of three likely moves. The lawsuit is expected to be followed by a request to the Gaming Control Board for a hearing to revoke the casino license for Foxwoods, which is considering a move after two years of battles with community groups and the city about its South Philly site. Trump is also likely to file a petition to intervene if Foxwoods files a request to move with the board, which would have to hold a hearing to consider and vote on it. Trump's lawsuit seeks to stop the Gaming Control Board from taking further action on the current local casino licenses until the issue is resolved. That could eventually give Trump another chance at participating in a local casino.
Trump three months ago ripped Rendell for “outrageous” behavior for helping to engineer the potential Foxwoods move. A former friend of Rendell’s, Trump said he didn’t expect to ever seek casino business in Pennsylvania again. “Pennsylvania is a little too political of a state for me,” Trump said then. “It sounds like you have to be a friend of the governor to get a casino.”
* Brian Tierney, now CEO of Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns the Daily News and Philly.com, was one of the local investors in Trump’s Philadelphia application, under the name Keystone Redevelopment Partners LLC.