Casino hopefuls promise the moon to gaming board

Posted: January 31, 2014

STEP RIGHT UP, ladies and gentlemen, and hear all about the life-changin', heart-racin', neighborhood-revitalizin' benefits of a new-fangled casino in Center City or South Philadelphia!

OK, OK: The hucksterism didn't quite reach that level yesterday when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board held suitability hearings for two of the five applicants angling for the city's second casino license.

But the honchos behind the proposed casinos - Market8, at 8th and Market streets; and Casino Revolution, at Front Street and Pattison Avenue - each stated that theirs was truly the best location for a new casino, and destined to spur development in their respective neighborhoods.

Market8 lead developer Ken Goldenberg dubbed his site "the most accessible location in Center City" because of proximity to public transit and highways.

About 17,500 people a day walk past the parking lot that now occupies the site, Goldenberg said.

(The Goldenberg Group owns 60 percent of that land. Lewis Katz, a managing partner of the company that owns the Daily News, the Inquirer and philly.com, is a limited partner in Goldenberg but is not involved in the casino application.)

Mitchell Etess, president of Mohegan Sun, the company that would operate Market8, ran through the project's big selling points: They project to generate $518 million in gross gambling revenue, more than any of the proposed casinos, and $260 million in taxes for the state, also more than any of the competitors.

Etess said Market8's backers plan to invest $125 million of their own money into the project, and to borrow $375 million from Deutsche Bank to cover the rest of the construction costs for the four-story, 825,000-square-foot casino, which would take 24 months to build.

The group has an agreement with Hersha Hospitality Trust to spend $70 million on an eye-catching 12-story hotel that would sit atop the casino, he said.

The gaming board needled the Market8 team over whether there would be enough parking - the casino's garage could accommodate up to 1,000 cars, with overflow going to nearby garages - or whether their projected revenue figures were too high.

Consultant Pete Tyson said Market8 would take advantage of an "untapped market" - downtown workers, conventioneers and people staying in hotels who are "dying for something to do at night" but unwilling to head to the SugarHouse Casino in Fishtown or to one of the proposed casinos in South Philly.

An hour or so after Market8's hearing ended, the gaming board heard a pitch for a South Philly casino.

"Look, we have the best location, hands down, hands down," said Joe Canfora, president of PHL Local Gaming, which wants to build the Casino Revolution on 24 acres owned by "tomato king" Joseph Procacci.

The site is within spitting distance of I-95 and I-76, and the farthest from stadium-area residents of the three proposed South Philly casinos.

Canfora said the company can reuse an existing Procacci property that could house 1,500 slot machines and be open within nine months - earlier than any other proposed casino.

The gaming board pressed PHL officials on whether they actually would build everything at once, or in delayed phases.

The casino team said it was committed to building the rest of the casino - which would feature additional slots and a 250-room hotel - in 20 months.

The company's backers are investing $130 million of their own money, and proposing to borrow another $300 million from Wells Fargo and Jefferies, a global investment firm. PHL expects the casino to generate about $358 million in annual gaming revenue.

The team also reviewed plans for a family recreation development called the LoSo Entertainment Center, to be built near the casino, and said it would build an additional on-ramp to I-76 to alleviate congestion.


On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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