Foxwoods Casino gets one last chance

An artist's drawing of a Foxwoods design, submitted Thursday by the casino's investors and Harrah's, their would-be partner.
An artist's drawing of a Foxwoods design, submitted Thursday by the casino's investors and Harrah's, their would-be partner.
Posted: November 19, 2010

HARRISBURG - The Foxwoods Casino got a reprieve - again.

But this is the last one, the state's Gaming Control Board warned Thursday.

The investor group behind Foxwoods has until Dec. 10 to deliver to the gaming board evidence that its deal to turn over control of the project to Harrah's Entertainment is signed and sealed.

At its next meeting, Dec. 16, the seven commissioners will decide whether to revoke the project's license - four years after it was awarded.

Even though the future of the South Philadelphia project hangs in balance, the investor group and Harrah's gave commissioners renderings of what the proposed casino would look like.

The Harrah's Horseshoe Casino would be about 60,000 square feet and feature 1,500 slots and 80 table games. The gaming hall, surrounded by surface parking for 1,376 cars, would hug the Delaware River and feature three restaurants - including a steakhouse and a noodle bar - and special sections for Asian games and high-limit table games.

By its next meeting, the gaming board needs to see documents outlining a final purchase agreement, an executed partnership deal, and details of financing for the $275 million project, said Cyrus Pitre, chief enforcement counsel for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

All of that was supposed to have been produced by Thursday's meeting. But lawyers for Foxwoods and Harrah's explained that despite round-the-clock negotiations since the last meeting, on Oct. 27, when the board also held off on voting on revocation, the two entities have yet to sign off on a deal to change control.

Harrah's would develop and operate the casino but control only 33 percent of the venture, since the company has a casino in Chester, and Pennsylvania gaming law prohibits any one operator from controlling two casinos.

F. Warren Jacoby, an attorney for the Foxwoods group - called Philadelphia Entertainment and Development Partners (PEDP) - said he was "relieved and pleased" by the board's decision. He declined to speculate on whether the groups could meet the new deadline.

William Downey, an attorney for Harrah's, said only: "We're going to drive to get a deal wrapped up."

Downey said the facility could be built by the summer of 2012. The second phase of the project would include a four-story parking garage and an additional 20,000 square feet of casino space. But he said the timeline for that part's start and finish was "floating."

Downey said the Las Vegas casino company had "two highly confident letters" from financial institutions willing to lend some of the $200 million that would have to be raised to build the casino. He also said the group would have to attract an additional $75 million in equity from existing or new partners.

"We're aware of parties out there who are interested in getting involved in the Philadelphia market," Downey said.

Even if PEDP persuades the board not to take away its license, the new group still must petition the gaming board for permission to change ownership, modify the facility from the original design, and approve financing. In addition, the project would have to seek an extension on the license deadline until Dec. 31, 2012. The current license is set to expire in May.

Pitre, of the gaming board, said reviewing petitions could take two to three months.

Dan Hajdo, a spokesman for Casino-Free Philadelphia, who was one of about a dozen protesters at the meeting, said he doubted that PEDP and Harrah's could meet the new deadline.

"The purchase agreement and financing agreement are two of the key, most complicated, and difficult documents," he said.

The Foxwoods team has been struggling for four years to launch a casino on Columbus Boulevard between Tasker and Reed Streets. After winning one of the city's casino licenses, Foxwoods and the second project, the SugarHouse Casino, faced intense political and neighborhood opposition.

SugarHouse opened in September, but the Foxwoods project has taken more twists than Lincoln Drive.

Mayor Nutter came into office vowing to stop both of the city's planned casinos, arguing that it was bad use of waterfront property. At the same time, the collapse of the economy took a toll on the Mashantucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut, which was supposed to open and operate the Foxwoods Casino.

PEDP explored moving its project to Center City before being forced back to the waterfront by the gaming board.

With the tribe's financial problems, PEDP sought out Las Vegas casino operator Steve Wynn to bail out the project. Wynn reached an agreement, but abruptly dropped out of that deal in April.


Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com.

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