Casino developers show their hands

Posted: February 14, 2013

THE DEVELOPERS are competitors, two of six applicants vying for the second Philadelphia casino license.

But local guy Bart Blatstein couldn't hide his admiration Tuesday for Steve Wynn, the casino magnate with a winning record that stretches from Atlantic City to Las Vegas to Macau in China.

Blatstein sought an audience with Wynn after the state Gaming Control Board heard six hours of testimony - one hour each for the applicants - during which they sung their own praises.

Wynn dismissed much of what he heard Tuesday as "a lot of developer-speak, a lot of pie-in-the-sky stuff." But he liked Blatstein.

"You've got a great reputation here," Wynn said as Blatstein beamed. "You're the competition for this license, I'm telling you."

Blatstein said he had studied Wynn's work, calling him the man who "changed the paradigm of what a casino should be."

Wynn is pitching a casino and hotel on 46 acres along the Delaware River in Fishtown. During his testimony, Wynn told the Gaming Control Board that casinos outside of gambling towns like Las Vegas are often "homely."

He promised to lure tourists and conventioneers with 300 "mini-suite" luxury hotel rooms. And he said his company, Wynn Resorts, is flush with cash.

"We have $2 billion in cash," he said. "We write our own check to build our building."

Later, Wynn said casinos like SugarHouse, which operates just down the river from his site, are "slots joints that cater to neighborhood people." He noted that SugarHouse plans to expand.

Pennsylvania's gaming law taxes slot-machine revenue at 55 percent and table-game revenue at 14 percent. Wynn said a winning bid must draw people to Philadelphia who are more likely to play table games.

Blatstein pitched his project, The Provence, in the former headquarters of the Daily News, Inquirer and at Broad and Callowhill streets. He has partnered with Isle of Capri to operate the casino business.

Like many of the developers Tuesday, Blatstein emphasized his connection to Philadelphia and his commitment to diversity in hiring employees and vendors.

Blatstein said he had plenty of financing promised to build, adding that he has spent his 35-year development career in Philly, with major projects in Northern Liberties and near Temple University's North Philly campus.

Another local developer, Ken Goldenberg, is pitching his Market8 casino at 8th and Market streets in Center City. Goldenberg partnered last week with the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which operates a casino in Luzerne County.

Goldenberg called his site the "most strategic property in this city," close to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, local restaurants and historic sites.

He described the multistory casino on nearly two acres transformational for Market Street.

The least conventional of the six applications came from Penn National Gaming, which operates a casino near Harrisburg. The company needs a partner since state law says the majority owner of one casino can own up to only one-third of a second license.

Penn National founded the Philadelphia Casino Benefit Corp., a nonprofit that would own a majority share of the Hollywood Philadelphia casino proposed for Packer Avenue at 7th Street in South Philly. The nonprofit's share of casino revenue, after initial construction costs and an annual management fee deducted by Penn National, would go toward the city's public schools and municipal pension plan.

Two other applicants also chose Packer Avenue sites.

The Stadium District Live Hotel & Casino is a joint venture by the Cordish Companies of Maryland, which runs the Xfinity Live venue nearby, and the company that runs the Parx Casino in Bensalem. Joe Weinberg, Cordish's managing partner, said the site near 9th Street has easy access to major-league sports stadiums, noting they draw 8 million visitors a year.

Joseph Procacci, who built a South Philly empire first by peddling produce and later by developing resort properties in Florida, is pitching Casino Revolution for Front Street at Packer Avenue.

Procacci, who initially owned the entire project, sold 9 percent two weeks ago to the Lomax Cos., founded by Walter Lomax, a South Philly physician who built a fortune with prison-health contracts.

John O'Riordan, Procacci's attorney, called the ownership stake of Lomax, an African-American, the most "meaningful and significant" participation of any minority in any application.

The public was not allowed to comment during Tuesday's hearing. The Gaming Control Board will hold hearings in Philadelphia for public comment on April 11 and 12. The board also said that more details about the casino applications will be released on its website in about a week.

" @ChrisBrennanDN


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