SugarHouse Casino executives and owners, along with several politicians, officially broke ground Tuesday on a long-planned $164 million expansion of the Fishtown property.
When SugarHouse opened in September 2010 - after delays caused by community opposition and financing struggles rooted in the 2007-08 economic collapse - it was considered an interim facility.
The anticipated expansion was then delayed by a lawsuit to block the expansion by partners with a minority share of ownership, and by the slow process of obtaining permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and others.
"I can honestly say I can't believe it's finally here," Greg Carlin, chief executive of SugarHouse, said before a ceremonial groundbreaking in a parking lot north of the existing casino.
Carlin acknowledged the beleaguered state of the casino industry, which is reeling from the possible closure of four casinos in Atlantic City this year.
"There is currently too much gaming capacity in the Northeast, but we made a promise to Philadelphia that one day we would expand and make SugarHouse Casino bigger and much better," he said.
The expansion, expected to open next year, will more than double the size of SugarHouse, to 260,000 square feet from 108,000 square feet, not including a 600,000-square-foot, seven-story parking garage that will give poker players, in particular, quick access to the tables.
The expansion will increase SugarHouse's gambling floor to 85,000 square feet from 50,000 square feet. That will allow the company to operate 30 more table games, 400 more slot machines, and a 30-table poker room.
But gambling is not the focus of the expansion. "Above all, this expansion is about amenities," SugarHouse general manager Wendy Hamilton said.
Most of the new space will be used for non-gambling attractions, such as new restaurants and a 30,000-square-foot space for events with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the Delaware River and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
SugarHouse employs 1,100 and plans to add 500 jobs to staff the expanded facility.
To pay for the expansion, Carlin said, SugarHouse refinanced its debt about a year ago, and now has $260 million in bonds outstanding and a $125 million revolving credit facility it will use to pay construction costs.
Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said in June it expected the SugarHouse expansion to result in high-single-digit growth in operating profits next year, following a decline in operating profits in 2013 and an anticipated mid-single-digit decline this year.
EXPANSION BY THE NUMBERS
of space on gambling floor, up from 50,000.
Additional table games.
Tables in a new poker room.
in new event space.
Additional jobs to staff expansion.