With Foxwoods casino out, movement for statewide bids afoot

Posted: December 23, 2010

The failure of the Foxwoods casino project is about to set off a flurry of legislation in Harrisburg seeking to open up statewide bidding for the casino license now reserved for the city.

The 2004 state law that authorized 13 casinos across the state mandated two in Philadelphia.

The SugarHouse Casino opened in Fishtown in September while Foxwoods, planned for South Philly, stumbled through four years of delays before the state Gaming Control Board revoked its license last week.

State Sen. Jane Earll, a Republican from Erie, yesterday said she will again submit legislation that would allow statewide bidding for the Foxwoods license. Earll's legislation would permit a new Philadelphia applicant but preclude an applicant from Pittsburgh, which has one license now.

"I just don't think we should legislatively be earmarking where these licenses go," Earll said. "You want to put it in a place where it's going to be successful."

State Sen. John Wozniak, a Johnstown Republican, last year submitted legislation that would have required the Gaming Control Board to revoke the Foxwoods license and give it to an applicant in his legislative district.

Wozniak intends to submit a new version that would allow statewide bidding on the Foxwoods license while also forcing the board to revoke and rebid a license for a horse-racing track and casino in Lawrence County.

Earll does not support Wozniak's effort to revoke the Lawrence County casino license.

"These people will put it where they will make the most money," Wozniak said. "And where they make the most money, the state makes the most money."

State Rep. Curt Schroder, a Chester County Republican, last week said he, too, will submit legislation to have statewide bidding for the Foxwoods license.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, of Philadelphia, the incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, yesterday said he understands and shares his colleagues' frustration.

But Hughes said the city and Philadelphia School District are counting on local gaming taxes from two casinos. Hughes also said he would fight for the jobs the project would create.

"We think this is the best place," Hughes said of the license.

The Gaming Control Board voted 6-1 last Thursday to revoke that license after a group of local investors failed to meet deadlines to finalize a last-ditch effort to partner with Caesars Entertainment to open a casino on Columbus Boulevard at Reed Street.

The board's staff in March said the process to rebid the license, including legal appeals, could take at least four years.

Board member Jim Ginty, appointed by Gov. Rendell, cast the lone vote in support of giving the investors more time. Ginty said he was concerned the Legislature would move the license, which could have produced 650 construction jobs and then 1,200 casino jobs, if the project had been able to move forward.

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