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Live! Hotel & Casino backers focus on experience at suitability hearing

The owner-operators of Live! Hotel & Casino are the only applicants with the experience necessary to run a successful second casino in Philadelphia, the proposal's backers told state gaming regulators today.

Officials for Live!, which would be a joint venture between Greenwood Racing, Inc., and Cordish Companies, made their pitch to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board this morning. The presentation and question-and-answer session are taking place on the third day of suitability hearings for the five applicants vying for Philadelphia's next casino license.

Live! officials focused on the combined experience from Greenwood, which owns Parx Casino in Bensalem, and Cordish, which operates multiple casinos and entertainment complexes nationwide, including Xfinity Live! in Philadelphia.

"Anyone outside this market will be shell-shocked when they come into it," Greenwood CEO Tony Ricci said, emphasizing the group's existing facilities in the Philadelphia region. It's the only applicant currently operating in the Philadelphia market, he said.

Joseph Weinberg, a Cordish president and managing partner, told the board that no other company had its track record developing casino and resort properties.

Two of the top five highest-grossing casinos in the country are Cordish-run, he said, including Maryland Live!, the top-grossing gaming hall in the Mid-Atlantic. Greenwood's Parx holds the top spot in Pennsylvania, he said.

Weinberg said the company has a database of 1.5 million customers in Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic markets, and would cross-market its rewards program among its various properties.

Board members wondered whether that would lead to cannibalization of existing casinos -- a frequent concern throughout the suitability hearings.

Weinberg contended that Live! would be offering greater variety to its customers, though he expects the casino would take some business away from Atlantic City gaming venues.

Officials also stressed the two partners have the funds to build the casino and adjoining hotel, and their companies are known for financial stability.

"There is no doubt that we possess the necessary financial resources to complete this project," Ricci said.

But the partnership spurred some concern from gaming board members, who asked what would happen if a major disagreement surfaced between Greenwood and Cordish. The companies maintained that they would work out any issues that arise, and wouldn't have entered into the arrangement unless they were comfortable working together.

Those involved in the Live! project say a South Philadelphia casino is more likely to succeed than the Center City proposals.

The extra cars driving to the Center City sites would "pose absolute chaos" for traffic, and the downtown projects are using "almost surreal" numbers in their revenue projections, Greenwood chairman Robert Green said.

"In my mind, there is absolutely no doubt that the South Philadelphia site will substantially outperform either one of the downtown sites," he said.

Cordish's experience at Xfinity Live! means the group is well-positioned to capitalize on the existing eight million people who visit the stadium district annually, Weinberg said.

"We are there," he said. "We know how to take advantage of those existing events"

The board questioned whether the Live! casino might cannibalize itself, taking away customers from its own Xfinity Live!

Weinberg said that was "not at all" likely to happen, and the two facilities would be "absolutely complimentary."