At Pa. gaming board hearing, more support than opposition for 2d city casino

Ronald Armour offers support for the Casino Revolution project at the hearing.
Ronald Armour offers support for the Casino Revolution project at the hearing. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 13, 2013

After the first of two days of public testimony Thursday, the state's Gaming Control Board had heard more support than opposition for a second casino in Philadelphia.

But if there was a message for the seven commissioners, it was to pick a project that will do more for the city than just add slot machines and table games.

Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Phila.), whose district includes the sites for all six casino applicants, urged the board to select a project that would bring the most positive change to the urban landscape.

"If the only mandate you had was to generate gaming revenue from wagers, the board's decision would be relatively easy," Farnese said. "Build the biggest box you could, put in as many slots and tables as you could, and open the doors for business."

Farnese said the board should place a high value on the "context" of a project and whether it would revitalize an area or transform a vacant property.

He stopped short of picking his favorite, saying it would be "difficult, if not unfair" at this stage.

Others were less constrained. Six groups are vying for the second license, and much of Thursday's testimony seemed like a popularity contest, with boosters pitching to commissioners.

Employees of Joseph Procacci, the South Philadelphia produce wholesaler and lead investor behind Casino Revolution proposed for Pattison Avenue at Front Street, packed the audience with matching T-shirts and baseball caps.

Fans of developer Bart Blatstein, sponsor of the Provence casino, hotel and entertainment center proposed for North Broad Street, hailed him for a track record in turning around depressed neighborhoods.

Ken Goldenberg, the developer behind Market8 in Center City, won kudos from the Design Advocacy Group, a professional forum of urban planners and architects that voted his design and siting as having "the most going for it."

The African American Chamber of Commerce gave high marks to Goldenberg and Penn National Gaming, a rival applicant behind the Hollywood Philadelphia project on the 700 block of Packer Avenue, for working with minority businesses.

And Steve Wynn got props from one of the biggest unions representing hospitality workers. Bob McDevitt, speaking for Local 54 of Unite Here, said Wynn's casinos were known in the industry for good pay, health coverage, and retirement funds.

But the day did have critics. Of the 20 or so people to testify in the first half of the hearing, several were union workers from the Holiday Inn on Packer, who expressed unease at what would happen to their jobs if the board selected Stadium Casino L.L.C. - a partnership between Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc., which owns Parx in Bensalem, and Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. The investors plan to incorporate the hotel into the Live! Hotel & Casino project at 900 Packer in South Philadelphia.

"If you let Cordish take good jobs away and replace them with fast-food-style jobs, what's next?" said Demetrius Jackson, a hotel union worker.

George P. Moy, representing the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp., addressed the board Thursday night. He emphasized the need for the winning casino bid to "cause the least impact on the community and hire the most from the Chinatown community."

While Moy made no specific reference to any project, the Market8 proposal would be within two blocks of Chinatown.

The gambling board may take as long as a year to select a licensee for the city's second casino.

The hearings continue Friday, with 22 people signed up to speak, starting at 9 a.m. in Room 204 A-B of the Convention Center.


Contact Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @j_linq.

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