HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Philadelphia residents on Tuesday will get their first, and perhaps best, chance to soak up the sales pitches of six groups led by wealthy businessmen and casino companies vying for a second casino license in their city.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's daylong hearing at the Pennsylvania Convention Center will give each applicant about 45 minutes to showcase its casino plans. It will be the second go-round for the agency, after it granted a license to a Foxwoods-backed group in 2006, then revoked it four years later amid financial and political challenges for the developers.
This time around, more suitors have come calling, promising hundreds of millions of dollars in investments and the creation of a tourist attraction that will bring an economic boost to the city and the state.
The applicants are backed by Watche Manookian, the London-based businessman who owns Parx casino and racetrack in the Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem; international casino mogul Steve Wynn and his Las Vegas-based company Wynn Resorts Ltd.; two local real estate developers, separately, Bart Blatstein and Ken Goldenberg; the Wyomissing, Pa.-based casino and racetrack operator Penn National Gaming Inc.; and Joe Procacci, who founded a Philadelphia-based wholesale fruit and vegetable distributor.
Three of the bidders — the groups backed by Penn National, Procacci and Manookian — have offered plans to build casinos in South Philadelphia, in or near the city's sports stadium complex. Wynn wants to build on the Delaware River waterfront just north of downtown, near where the city's only casino, SugarHouse, is already operating. Goldenberg is targeting a casino for a parking lot near the city's historic district, while Blatstein's plan is to build at the iconic white tower that formerly housed The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News.
The 9 a.m. meeting will be streamed live on the gaming board's website. The groups filed applications by the Nov. 15 deadline, and a licensing decision could take until the end of this year.
Political and grassroots support for or opposition to particular sites has yet to materialize, as it did after the gaming board received five proposals in 2005 for the two Philadelphia casino licenses.
A spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter said Monday that the process is at an early stage and that he is still gathering information on the applicants and their proposals.
Paul Levy, president and CEO of the private Philadelphia civic group, Center City District, said the city's and state's interests are not entirely the same in picking a winner. Both are interested in reaping tax revenue from a new casino, but the city is also interested in using the casino's design and location to boost its economy and long-term development objectives, Levy said.
In March, people will be able to start submitting written comments to the gaming board, and it expects to hold two days of hearings in April to gather public input, board spokesman Doug Harbach said. More hearings are expected after that as board members try to determine which applicant has the strongest plan.
Eventually, the seven-member gaming board must vote to determine the winner. The governor appoints three gaming board members while the Democratic and Republican leaders of the state House and Senate each appoint one member. Under the law, all four legislative appointees and at least one of the gubernatorial appointees must agree on the winner.
There is only one Philadelphia resident on the board, Jim Ginty, the former president of AT&T Pennsylvania.
The state's 2004 law legalizing casino-style gambling authorized 14 casinos, including two in Philadelphia. Currently, 11 casinos are operating in Pennsylvania, four of them in the Philadelphia region.