Investors: Board folded on casino too soon

Posted: September 15, 2011

HARRISBURG - It's a question many gamblers face at some point: Cut your losses or roll the dice one more time?

The investors behind the failed Foxwoods casino project in South Philly said yesterday that the state Gaming Control Board should have given them one more shot before revoking their license.

Investors' attorney Steven Cozen said the board decided two key factors - whether the investors were still financially suitable to build a casino and whether they had violated a set of deadlines to build the long-stalled project - without calling a single witness to testify.

"They used an improper procedure in order to short-circuit our rights in order to get the result they wanted," Cozen argued in front of the Commonwealth Court. "That's not right."

James Eisenhower, an attorney for the board, countered that gaming regulators "bent over backwards" to work with the investors, who were introducing a third casino operator after four years of delays. The investors could not meet a deadline to open the casino by May 29, and the board decided not to offer an available extension to Dec. 31, 2012.

"It was not completed," Eisenhower said of the details of the new deal the investors made with Caesars Entertainment. "The board said: 'You know what? We've been down this road before. Enough is enough.' "

Cozen later said that the deal with Caesars was completed and that the company, which also operates Harrah's casino in Chester, is still part of the project.

Local investors - Comcast Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider, developer Peter DePaul and insurance broker Manny Stamatakis - have pledged a combined $21 million in new funding for what they hope will be a $450 million project on Columbus Boulevard at Reed Street, Cozen said.

Both sides faced questions from skeptical judges.

"I'm just wondering: How many bites at the apple do they have to give the licensee?" Judge Patricia McCullough asked Cozen.

Judge Kevin Brobson noted that the license revocation would lead to even more delays in opening the casino, which will pay taxes to Philadelphia and the state.

"When is this other casino going to get built?" Brobson asked.

The Gaming Control Board's staff estimates that it will take four years from December until the license is successfully rebid to a new applicant, because of court challenges and the approval process.

Cozen predicted Commonwealth Court would issue a ruling within 90 days.

Asked whether the investors could build a casino by the end of 2012 if they prevail in court and are given another extension, Cozen said: "We'll deal with that issue when we have to."

A Franklin & Marshall College/Daily News poll in February found that 58 percent of city residents think one casino is enough and 38 percent thought a second casino should open here.

SugarHouse opened a casino in Fishtown in September 2010.

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