Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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Back to square one on 2d Philly casino

The long-running melodrama surrounding the Foxwoods Casino proposal to build a slots parlor in Philadelphia may be coming to a turning point - or to the point of no return.

Back to square one on 2d Philly casino

Foxwoods´ original site at Columbus Boulevard and Reed Street.
Foxwoods' original site at Columbus Boulevard and Reed Street. SARAH J. GLOVER / Staff photographer

Update: Delaware sports betting limited by federal court.

Update: The gaming board Friday took the easy way out - "a step backwards," was Mayor Nutter's apt description - by telling Foxwoods it's South Philly or nothing. Holding their noses at Young Philly Politics, with good reason.

The long-running melodrama surrounding the Foxwoods Casino proposal to build a slots parlor in Philadelphia may be coming to a turning point - or to the point of no return.

Casino executives appearing Friday before state regulators in Harrisburg need to demonstrate, first and foremost, that they still have what it takes to stay in the game.

No surprise a Foxwoods spokeswoman says the casino is "looking forward . . . to moving this project forward."

But the odds against Foxwoods keep getting longer, while the case for pulling the plug on its gambling license grows stronger.

The official purpose of the hearing before the state Gaming Control Board is to consider Foxwoods' request for a two-year extension of their license awarded in December 2006. That would give Foxwoods officials more time to secure a better location than their awful state-approved riverfront site in South Philadelphia.

The slots parlor backed by influential local investors in partnership with the Connecticut-based Mashantucket Western Pequot Tribal Nation was supposed to be open by now. But Foxwoods missed the initial deadline, in large part, due to the gaming board's blessing of a site on Columbus Boulevard at Reed Street.

Putting a slots parlor along the traffic-clogged stretch makes little sense - even less, since its big-box design also would clash with the city's vision for a vibrant waterfront.

State gaming regulators compounded their error by saddling Philadelphia with two riverfront casinos, although the SugarHouse Casino in Northern Liberties and Fishtown is more workable.

No wonder Mayor Nutter called Foxwoods "wrong for Philadelphia," echoing sustained opposition from neighbors, civic leaders and design experts.

At least Foxwoods executives faced reality in September when they announced they would explore a move. But a deal yet to be sealed to occupy the former Strawbridge's at 8th and Market Streets has stirred other opposition, and casino officials have kept the public in the dark for months about their plans.

Good for the gaming board, then, in trying to find out what's going on. Foxwoods needs to answer some basic questions: Where does it plan to locate, and - given a worsened economic outlook and a massive debt restructuring under way by the Pequot tribe - does the Foxwoods Philadelphia project have the financial muscle to pull it off?

The gaming board won't solve a thing by ordering Foxwoods to focus on its original South Philadelphia site. That site is widely opposed, even if Pennsylvania Supreme Court rulings have thwarted every effort to force Foxwoods to move to a better location.

All the delays and missteps stem back to the passage of a flawed gambling law in 2004. That legislation zoned out entire areas of the city better-suited to a casino, such as the airport. It also failed to insulate the licensing process from political influence.

The slots law needs to be fixed first, a process under way in Harrisburg. Then the gaming board needs to go back to square one and find a site for a slots parlor that works for Philadelphia.

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