PhillyInc: Pennsylvania board's action on unbuilt casino was long overdue

The long-running saga of the proposed Foxwoods casino and the state licensing panel is not unlike some classic animated shows. Related coverage, A1.
The long-running saga of the proposed Foxwoods casino and the state licensing panel is not unlike some classic animated shows. Related coverage, A1.
Posted: December 17, 2010

   I thought the day would never arrive when Pennsylvania regulators would yank the license for the unbuilt Foxwoods casino.

   It's been like watching Bugs Bunny toy with Elmer Fudd, daring the animated hunter to cross this line, then this line, then this line . . . except the casino version never quite reached that cliff where Elmer falls.

   Until Thursday.

   Finally, with a 6-1 vote, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board swiped the gambling license from the investor group that had held it for nearly four years.

   How overdue was this move?

   The gaming board gave Foxwoods more last-chance ultimatums than Mr. Dithers has given Dagwood Bumstead over the years.

   But for sheer entertainment value, few contemporary cartoons can surpass the story arcs that the Foxwoods project has plumbed.

   After facing opposition over its waterfront location in South Philadelphia, Foxwoods promoters decided to drop those plans in 2008 in favor of building one at the Gallery shopping mall in Center City. What ensued resembled the classic Looney Tunes "Duck Season, Rabbit Season" episode without the animated gunplay.

   With the financially troubled Mashantucket Pequot tribe unable to remain the lead investor in the $275 million project, the foundering Foxwoods attracted its Underdog hero in casino kingpin Steve Wynn in early 2010. However, Wynn skeedaddled out of town faster than the Road Runner.

   Finally, promoters of the rusting hulk that is the SS United States ocean liner this fall attempted to make a case that Foxwoods would be welcome aboard. I'm just not sure who's Steamboat Willie or Peg-Leg Pete in this version.

   Actually, comparing the Foxwoods tragicomedy with classic cartoons is a bit unfair to those works of art. Rather, the Foxwoods story has seemed more like a season of Cartoon Network's Ed, Edd n Eddy - no plots but lots of eccentric characters, yelling constantly and scheming about how to make a buck. It's just the stakes are different. The Ed boys in the suburbs were jonesing for jawbreakers, while the urbane players of the Foxwoods drama were angling for wallets.

   As laudable as the Gaming Control Board's action was Thursday, no one would confuse the panel with the avenging He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It commands as much respect as Yogi Bear has for Ranger Smith.

   But in the name of pic-a-nic baskets, the Gaming Control Board needs to begin to change that perception. If it's smart, it will not be too quick to reopen the Philadelphia license sweepstakes. Credit conditions for all commercial development remain lousy.

   Given that the Resorts Atlantic City casino changed hands this year for the paltry sum of $31.5 million, how many suckers can there be who are willing to shell out $50 million for a piece of paper that allows them to spend the next four years possibly not building anything?

   Plus, it may take some time for new potential bidders to get over the idea that it is possible for the house to lose it all when playing in Philadelphia. After all, real life is not like what happens after Wile E. Coyote gets flattened by a steamroller.

   In squashing Foxwoods, the Gaming Control Board has finally shown some character. I just wish that character was more like Samurai Jack than Elmer Fudd.


Contact columnist Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com. See his blog at .

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