If developers get their way, Penn students looking to gamble at a casino will not have to go quite as far as they do now.
The six applicants for Philadelphia’s second casino license took the stage in front of the Pennsylvania State Gaming Control Board last week to highlight their proposals.
The meeting was a chance “for each group to present their project to the public and to the board,” according to PGCB Director of Communications Doug Harbach.
Every proposed site, except for one on the Delaware River proposed by a group led by 1963 College graduate and billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn, would be closer to Penn than the current nearest casino.
The 2004 state gambling law reserved two casino licenses for the city. The first, SugarHouse Casino, opened in 2010. There is currently no second Philadelphia casino.
That leaves the open casino license the six developers were vying for last week.
College and Wharton junior Chang Won Lee, who is president of the Penn Poker Club, said that he would “definitely” go to a casino more frequently should one open closer to campus. When he does go, he said, it is typically to Parx Casino, which requires a half-hour drive.
“Personally, I’m very happy that there might be one closer to campus,” he said.
Not all are pleased about the possibility of a new casino in the city, however.
Dan Hajbo, a member of the Board of Directors of Casino-Free Philadelphia, said the proposals are “all bad in their own way.”
He said he has doubts about the size of the potential jobs, revenue and spin-off businesses many presenters were hawking. “SugarHouse hasn’t done it,” he said. “Other area casinos haven’t done it. So why should we believe that [a new Philadelphia casino] will?”
One casino operating group, Penn National Gaming, has a different financial structure than any of the other proposals.
The group, which is proposing a casino at Packer Avenue and 7th Street, already operates a casino near Harrisburg. Because they own that casino, state law says they can only have a one-third stake in a second casino.
The other two-thirds would go to the Philadelphia Casino Benefit Corp., a nonprofit set up by Penn National Gaming. PCBC would split most of its two-thirds equity stake between the city’s schools and municipal pension fund.
Hajbo looks at it differently. The PCBC proposal is “holding our schools hostage to this casino license and the casino revenue,” he said.
Many of the groups stressed that the casino was not the central attraction of their project. In his presentation, city developer Bart Blatstein noted that only 9 percent of the public space in his project will be the casino.
Wynn said the luxury hotel he is proposing includes “places you can take your family without getting anywhere near a slot machine.”
Two of the development groups are proposing casinos closer to the Philadelphia downtown.
Developer Ken Goldenberg is partnering with casino operators Mohegan Sun to propose Market8 at 8th and Market streets.
“Market8 is in the middle of everything,” he said, citing the nearby Independence Mall and Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The other downtown casino is being proposed by Tower Investments, led by Blatstein, in the former Philadelphia Inquirer building at North Broad and Callowhill streets.
Three of the groups are proposing casinos in South Philadelphia along Packer Avenue, near the city’s professional sports complex.
There are currently 11 casinos operating in the state, four of which are in the Philadelphia region. SugarHouse is within the city’s boundaries, while Parx Casino is in the northern suburb of Bensalem. Harrah’s Philadelphia is to the south of the city in Chester, and Valley Forge Casino Resort is northwest of downtown.
The six applicants are competing for a Category 2 license, which is for a stand-alone casino not affiliated with a horse racing track. Up to 5,000 slot machines and 250 table games, such as poker and blackjack, would be allowed.
Should one group be awarded the license, it would automatically owe $75 million in fees to the state even before construction began, according to Harbach.
Harbach says he sees the process taking “six to nine more months” before a winner, if any, is ultimately decided.
Public input hearings are currently scheduled for April 11 and 12.