Convinced that a stadium-area casino would draw sports fans, and certain that casino gamblers want to arrive by car, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Tuesday awarded Philadelphia's second casino license to Live! Hotel & Casino.
The Gaming Board found that "the synergy between gambling and entertainment at a casino" with "the more than 400 stadium-area events per year" could create a year-round attraction at the sports complex, according to a filing that explained the board's selection.
The board "was skeptical that public transit would be utilized to the extent projected by the Center City applicants," which were Market8 at Eighth and Market Streets and the Provence at 400 N. Broad St. The board feared traffic mayhem in Center City, particularly at the Provence.
The backers of Live!, a joint venture of Cordish Cos. of Baltimore and Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc., which owns the Parx Casino in Bensalem, were ecstatic and insisted that the $425 million Live! will increase the gambling market.
"We're laying down a lot of money because we know this market will expand," said Anthony Ricci, chief executive of Greenwood. "We're not here to just take business from Harrah's and SugarHouse."
The selection ended a process that started in July 2012, when the board said it would accept new applications for a second Philadelphia casino license, which had been awarded in December 2006 to what became known as the Foxwoods group.
Joseph S. Weinberg, president of Cordish, said the Cordish-Greenwood team was ready to start final design work and initial permitting immediately.
"There's a zoning overlay that anyone would have to get for gaming. We're confident that that will not be an issue," Weinberg said.
The Live! group projected in January that it would open the casino 15 months after getting the license.
The long-anticipated vote, which came before about 300 attendees at the Convention Center and 400 more online, was a bitter pill for the losing applicants.
"I think the board is very shortsighted," said Bart Blatstein, who proposed the $700 million Provence, aiming to create an "integrated resort" that would draw visitors not attracted to existing casinos in the Philadelphia region.
"All they've done is created a monopoly for Parx, with one in Bucks County and one in South Philly, which will squeeze out SugarHouse. It'll kill Harrah's Chester. It's just unbelievable," he said. "It's shocking that they would choose another crappy slots-in-a-box project."
Weinberg called Live! a world-class facility in a world-class location.
"This will be the only example in the country of having a casino-hotel complex with every major sport represented in terms of baseball, football, basketball, hockey, all in one destination," he said.
The company's marketing will attempt to turn one-day visitors for concerts and sporting events into multiday visitors, including stays in a 240-room hotel, the current Holiday Inn, which will be remodeled.
"The longer you keep people and the more you can have people stay overnight, that creates an exponential increase in expenditures in the market," Weinberg said.
With the choice of Live!, the board went with the proposal that had the lowest revenue projections of the four applicants, but the one that relied less in its revenue estimates on cannibalizing other casinos in and near the city. Annual revenue projections ranged from $518 million at Market8 to $322 million at Live!
The board said in its adjudication, a document explaining its choice, that it had to "choose a realistic and rightsized applicant, especially in a highly competitive market as in Philadelphia."
Cordish and Greenwood also offered a financial package that was compelling to the board, borrowing only half the money needed to build the casino with 2,000 slot machines and room for 125 table games.
"Being rightsized, not overbuilt or heavily laden with debt would ensure that in a competitive gaming market, [Live!] could operate a successful gaming operation and would be in a position to service any debts, make capital improvements, and reinvest in its facility," the board said.
Philadelphia's deputy mayor for commerce, Alan Greenberger, said he was pleased that the board had made a decision. "Now that we know who the licensee is, we are looking forward to working with them," he said.
"The other thing this does is that it frees up the other three sites to have a future. Two of them are downtown sites. There are good things going on on Market Street and North Broad. We need these sites to be in play," Greenberger said.
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