South Philly casino investors develop another plan

Posted: October 27, 2010

The investors behind Foxwoods, now nearly four years into demonstrating how not to build a casino here, announced yesterday another plan to save the long-stalled South Philly project.

The question now is whether that will impress the state Gaming Control Board, which in April started the process of revoking the casino license granted in December 2006 to the local investor group known as Philadelphia Entertainment and Development Partners (PEDP).

The board is set to hear arguments today from its staff, which wants the revocation process to continue without further hearings, and from the investors, who seek to stop the action.

To pull the deal together, the investors turned to casino competitors to their immediate north and south for help.

Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which runs a casino down the Delaware River in Chester and holds a $52.2 million note from the PEDP investors because it owned the land on Columbus Boulevard at Reed Street, where the casino would be built, will restructure that debt, put in more cash as a minority investor and run the casino if it opens.

Keating Building Corp., which built the SugarHouse Casino that opened last month just up the Delaware in Fishtown, will build the casino. Dan Keating is a SugarHouse investor.

Citizens Bank will forgive some debt for the local investors in return for a casino stake, the investors said yesterday.

The casino could open within 20 months, the investors said, which would push the project to June 2012.

Delays have long been a part of the Foxwoods project, formed when the local investors partnered with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation of Connecticut, which runs two casinos in that state using that brand name.

The tribe, which is still an investor but will no longer have a management role, stumbled through financial trouble last year.

Community opposition and local government concerns prompted the casino investors in September 2008 to consider moving the project to Center City, but they were unable to secure a site.

The board in August 2009 ordered the investors to return to South Philly and get to work.

The state General Assembly in January passed revisions to the state gaming law that, along with permitting table games such as blackjack and poker, also granted the investors an extension to December 2012 to open the casino.

The investors announced in March that billionaire casino operator Steve Wynn was stepping in to rescue the project with cash and a new casino design.

Wynn dropped out of the deal less than six weeks later, stunning the local investors and leaving them to scramble for yet another casino company to save them.

The Gaming Control Board members have been frustrated with the flailing casino investors, but they have also been warned by staffers that revoking the license and putting it up for bid could take at least four years.

Board spokesman Doug Harbach said yesterday that its staff was aware of the Harrah's deal and was prepared to deal with an expected petition for the change in ownership of the casino license while also moving forward on the process to revoke it.

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