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Philly outlines pros, cons of casino proposals

Any of the six applicants for Philadelphia's second casino would be "a viable option," but all of the proposals also face obstacles, city officials and consultants say.

Alan Greenberger, the city's deputy mayor for economic development, and consultants from AKRF spoke this morning before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which will award the casino license.

Greenberger said the city was not endorsing any of the proposals, but had reviewed the benefits and drawbacks of each. Still, he noted that the three South Philadelphia proposals appear unlikely to differentiate themselves from SugarHouse, the city's existing casino, while Center City projects are expected to spur development.

"Any one of the six proposals is a viable option," he told the board members. "We have not identified any issue with a particular proposal which should rule it out of contention."

During the hour-and-a-half-long hearing, Greenberger and the consultants, which conducted an economic analysis for the city, described the potential economic impact of the plans, as well as their effect on the surrounding communities and SugarHouse.

Three contenders would build their casinos in South Philadelphia's stadium district: Casino Revolution, planned by "Tomato King" Joseph Procacci and his PHL Local Gaming; Hollywood Casino, planned by the Berks County-based Penn National Gaming; and Live! Hotel & Casino, planned by Parx Casino owner Greenwood Racing and Xfinity Live! operator Cordish Companies.

Others vying for the license are: Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn, whose proposed Wynn Philadelphia would be located in Fishtown; developer Bart Blatstein, whose planned Provence would be in the former home of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and on North Broad Street; and developer Ken Goldenberg and his Market East Associates, whose proposed Market8 casino would be at Eighth and Market streets.

Greenberger said the three South Philadelphia proposals are "less likely to induce further development and less likely to generate a new audience" than other projects.

He said the three sites have good highway access, but that could lead to congestion, especially during sporting events.

Hollywood, particularly, "performs relatively poorly" in terms of generating jobs and tax revenues, Greenberger said.

He also questioned whether some of the South Philadelphia plans would enhance the city's gaming offerings. Casino Revolution "does not deliver anything that does not already exist," he said.

Greenberger also noted that the sites may be too far from the Broad Street Line for pedestrian access, but the "relatively isolated" location for Casino Revolution means the impact on residents would be "relatively minimal."

But Live! and Hollywood would be run by experienced casino operators, and Live! especially could help create "a more dynamic sports and entertainment district."

AKRF consultant John Neill noted that the stadiums draw visitors that area year-round, which could help bring steady traffic to the casinos.

The Center City sites -- Market8 and the Provence -- "have the greatest potential to spur additional economic development," Greenberger said.

Market8, Greenberger told the board, would have the "most immediate effect," while the Provence would be "part of a longer-term revitalization of North Broad Street."

Some of the city's biggest concerns with Market8 deal with security, parking and traffic, he said. And residents of nearby Chinatown have expressed worries about problem gambling.

Still, the Market8 proposal is at a "prime site" that could enhance efforts "to rejuvenate Market Street East," he said.

The Provence could complement a "wide range of existing investments," such as the Convention Center expansion, and would be a "major investment" along a "priority corridor," Greenberger said.

The Provence also would bring the largest potential benefit in jobs, gaming and non-gaming revenue and tax revenue, he said.

But, Greenberger noted that the casino would be located at the "already congested" interchange near Vine Street, 15th Street and 16th Street.

Wynn's project is the closest to SugarHouse, which is also located along the Delaware River.

There is a concern about "potential overlap" with SugarHouse, Greenberger said.

But, he added, that a Wynn casino could be "an attraction in its own right" and bring new visitors to the city. And Neill told the board that pairing the casinos in close proximity could offer a "critical mass" to draw gaming customer to the region.

The hearing was briefly interrupted when a group of anti-casino protesters began chanting. The group held signs saying "crime," "addiction," and "poverty," and were escorted out of the hearing room by security.

"No casinos, no matter where," the protesters yelled.

The gaming control board said today that it has extended the time for the public to submit comments on the proposals, to Nov. 29.

The board also scheduled the final hearings on the casino, which will concern the suitability of the applicants to hold a license. Those hearings are scheduled for Jan. 28-30, 2014, and will be held in Philadelphia.

See's complete coverage of the casino bidding process.