City's Greenberger at gaming board hearing

Philadelphia Casino
Shown is an interior view of the gaming floor at the SugarHouse Casino, Philadelphia's only casino so-far. It opened on for Sept. 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Editor's note: A second round of public hearings on applications for Philadelphia's second casino license is underway by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Twenty people have spoken so far. The hearings are expected to last until 9 p.m. tonight (Thursday).

Alan Greenberger is Mayor Nutter’s pointman on casinos. He told the gaming board that at some point in the process, the city will make a recommendation on which of the six projects it likes the best, but for the moment, it’s still in the process of evaluating each of them.

The city has hired a New York consulting firm, AKRF, to help it evaluate each of the proposals.

Greenberger, a deputy mayor and head of the city’s planning commission, told the board that the city is most interested in assessing the economic impact of both gaming and non-gaming features -- so not just potential revenue from slots and tables, but also restaurants, hotel rooms and other amenities.

But big picture, the city will pay close attention to how a project could spur growth and, as Greenberger said, “enhance surroundings and lead to positive” development in surrounding neighborhoods.

Greenberger told the board that the city’s consultant also will try to gauge which of the projects would do the least harm to the city’s first and sole casino, SugarHouse. The city has a vested interest in SugarHouse’s success: it gets help for schools and tax relief for property owners from gaming revenue

With a second casino, SugarHouse will face flat revenue at best, or a decline gaming dollars, Greenberger said.

Also as the head of the planning commssion, Greenberger said the city will be focusing on the impact on traffic and congestion of each project: the Vine Street interchange for The Provence; the I-95 exit for Wynn Philadelphia; and the stadium district for the three South Philadelphia projects.

Earlier this morning, Sen. Larry Farnese got the first slot for addressing the gaming board: all six applicants have proposed projects within his district, which also includes the one existing gaming hall, SugarHouse.

Farnese said it would “difficult if not unfair to chose a particular favorite.”

But the South Philadelphia Democrat gave some hints of how he’s leaning. His big message to gaming board: don’t go with the project that’s the lowest risk. Think big and pick a project that would yield the most economic benefit for the city.

If the only mandate of the board was to generate revenue, Farnese said, the board should “build the biggest box you could, put in as many slots as you could and open for business.”

Farnese told commissioners they should focus on:

  • Project’s overall economic impact on city;
  • Weighing the concerns of host neighborhoods
  • and determining the “sustainability” of applicant.

Farnese said commissioners should focus on the “context” of a project and how it could revitalize or energize a neighborhood.

On the sustainability of projects, the senator said commissioners need to “look closely at who will fund who will build and who will operate the casino.” The board should look the financial and examine “the track records of applicants who have a history of developing Philadelphia markets, who understand this market.”