Las Vegas impresario Stephen A. Wynn is stepping up to salvage the stalled Foxwoods Casino project, which is in jeopardy of losing its license.
Wynn Resorts Ltd. announced yesterday that it had signed a letter of intent for an affiliate to take over managing and developing the gaming hall on the Delaware River in South Philadelphia.
The original investor group, Philadelphia Entertainment & Development Partners, would still have a stake in the casino, but the Wynn organization would control at least 51 percent of the business, according to sources familiar with the deal.
The Wynn company did not disclose how much money it would invest in the project.
Stephen A. Cozen, a lawyer for the Foxwoods project, declined to comment.
Wynn Resorts said the agreement is conditioned on approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
"I am thrilled to be returning to the East Coast," Wynn said in the statement, "in particular to the city in which I was privileged to have gained my college education."
Wynn, 67, graduated in 1963 from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor of arts degree in English. He also served as a Penn trustee for 10 years.
One of the early operators in Atlantic City, Wynn opened the Golden Nugget in 1980. He left New Jersey in 1987, after selling the casino. Putting his luxe touch on Las Vegas, he built the Mirage, Bellagio, and Treasure Island resorts. He sold those and started Wynn Resorts, a publicly traded corporation, in 2002.
The Wynn deal comes at a critical time for Foxwoods.
On Jan. 27, the seven-member Gaming Control Board gave the Foxwoods partners an ultimatum: Present a new design and financing details that are acceptable to the board - or risk losing your license.
Those plans will be presented to the board at a hearing in Harrisburg next Wednesday.
Mayor Nutter said in an interview that Wynn Resorts executives briefed him yesterday morning about the deal during a 15-minute meeting in his City Hall office.
His first question, he said, was whether the Philadelphia casino would bear the Wynn name - the mayor's litmus test for gauging how serious he was about operating a casino here. Wynn has built a reputation for luxury casinos, having recently opened billion-dollar properties bearing his name in Las Vegas and the Chinese city of Macau.
Nutter said the executives' answer was yes. "They said this will be one of the properties they run as a high-end casino," Nutter said. "To me, it indicates his level of commitment."
The mayor said he also was told that as many as six Wynn executives were ready to relocate to Philadelphia to run the business.
Nutter said he was blunt with Wynn's representatives, telling them the project faced "serious and legitimate" issues, including problems with the site, traffic, and parking. "I told them point-blank, 'You have a lot of work to do here. There's a long history,' " Nutter said.
Under the original arrangement, individual investors controlled 70 percent of the project, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation of Connecticut, 30 percent.
The local investors include the family charities of three Philadelphia entrepreneurs: sports-team owner Lewis Katz; Center City developer Ron Rubin; and Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider. The businessmen have been steering the troubled project for the past year.
Three years ago, the partners won one of two licenses for a slots parlor in Philadelphia in a fiercely competitive bidding process.
But from the start, the project has faced intense neighborhood and political opposition.
Nutter came to office intent on moving the big-box casino off the Delaware waterfront. The investors agreed in September 2008 to consider a downtown location at the old Strawbridge & Clothier department store.
But that idea fell flat as the investor group struggled to find financing.
Last August, the gaming board ordered the partnership to give up on Center City and move the project back to the waterfront.
The partners began searching for a new investor, and for months, Wynn was the rumored suitor.