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Trump sues gaming board for nixing his casino plan

He wants bidding reopened on 2 city slot parlors

Donald Trump sued the state Gaming Control Board yesterday, claiming he was unfairly denied a casino license in Philadelphia in 2006 because he owns three casinos in Atlantic City.

Trump will seek to reopen the bidding for two casino licenses in the city. That would put him back in competition with SugarHouse in Fishtown and Foxwoods, approved for South Philly but considering a move to The Gallery at 11th and Market streets.

The Gaming Control Board, explaining its Dec. 20, 2006, decision, said a company with casinos in Philadelphia and Atlantic City might try to lure customers from here to there, where profits are better. The casino tax rate is 54 percent in Pennsylvania and 9.25 percent in New Jersey.

The board singled out Trump, noting his Atlantic City casinos were emerging from bankruptcy and might use city customers for "rebuilding and revitalization."

That "discriminatory criteria" gave casino applicants with no Atlantic City ties an unfair advantage, violating the U.S. Constitution's protection on interstate commerce, the lawsuit says.

Trump's rejected application called for a casino on the site of the former Budd Co. plant in Nice-town. His investors then included Brian Tierney, now chief executive officer of Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns the Daily News and Inquirer.

Doug Sherman, acting chief counsel for the Gaming Control Board, hadn't seen the lawsuit yesterday but noted that the state Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the board's decisions.

Trump, who claims in the lawsuit to have spent more than $10 million to plan for a Philadelphia casino license, is also likely to intervene if Foxwoods asks the board to approve a new location.

Trump may be seeking leverage for a role in the Foxwoods relocation. He was rumored to have sought participation when Foxwoods was scouting for a new location. Gov. Rendell helped steer Foxwoods investors to consider The Gallery in September.

Trump threw a public tantrum one week later, complaining: "Pennsylvania is a little too political a state for me. It sounds like you have to be a friend of the governor to get a casino."

Foxwoods and SugarHouse have been stymied from starting construction for two years by neighborhood opposition and political wrangling.

Foxwoods yesterday declined to comment on Trump's lawsuit.

SugarHouse said Trump may be trying to solve "financial trouble" at his Atlantic City casinos by delaying competition here.

Trump on Nov. 28 announced he would miss a $53 million bond- interest payment for his Atlantic City casinos. Profits from the casinos have been falling for two years, due in part to casinos opening in Pennsylvania.

"When the matter is finally over, Mister Trump will be told, 'You're fired!' " SugarHouse investor Richard Sprague said yesterday, a reference to the catch-phrase from Trump's now-canceled television show, "The Apprentice."

A spokesman for the governor said Rendell has "every confidence that the gaming board did its due diligence and acted appropriately when awarding the licenses to the Foxwoods and SugarHouse casinos." *