Flashy pitches roll in for casino license in Philadelphia

Permit would city's second

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The half-dozen applicants for Philadelphia's second casino license touted the merits of their proposals before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board last week.

Flashy videos with images of the city's skyline, its iconic attractions and its smiling residents were standard fare.

The first four groups -- led by local developer Ken Goldenberg, South Philadelphia businessman Joseph Procacci, a partnership between regional casino operators Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment Inc. and Cordish Cos., and gaming giant Penn National Gaming Inc. -- gave it their best shot. In 50-minute presentations given Tuesday, each boasted that its project had the best location, that it was the easiest to get to and from, that it would hire the most diverse workforce and generate the most gaming revenue for city and state, and that it had more "real Philadelphians" behind it than the others.

Then Steve Wynn appeared and enraptured the room.

By the time Mr. Wynn was set to present at 2:15 p.m, it was standing-room only in Room 103A. Many leaned forward so they would not miss a word from the man who jokes with his inner circle that "it's good to be king."

Mr. Wynn was just that during his allotted time. One could hear a pin drop as he spoke in a relaxed, polished manner, as if he were describing what he had for breakfast instead of engaging in a fierce competition.

"Let me start from the beginning," said the son of a bingo hall operator. "A slot machine is a slot machine is a slot machine. Damn things all look alike.

"Buildings and stuff matter. But it's people that make people happy. It's about human resource engineering," he said. "It's about giving people the best restaurant, the best hotel, the best experience. That's what it's all about."

He said Wynn Philadelphia, proposed for 70 acres in Fishtown, would deliver that and more. He touted his track record of five-star hotels at casino properties in Las Vegas and Macau. Then he rolled out his own video, showing what one of the 900-square-foot suites at Wynn Philadelphia's all-suites hotel would look like, as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin sang in the background.

The audience cheered. About half the room followed Mr. Wynn out the door to his own hospitality suite at the Convention Center.

Local developer Bart Blatstein, whose presentation was the sixth of six, acknowledged that he was a little nervous about presenting his project after Mr. Wynn.

"That's just great. I have to follow Frank Sinatra," Mr. Blatstein quipped.

He framed his project, a $700 million, French-style village called the Provence, as the culmination of a career that began more than 30 years ago with the renovation of a row house in Queen Village.

He said he bought the former home of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com at 400 N. Broad St. in 2011 as a "bookend" to the state office building at Broad and Spring Garden.

"I started to dream," Mr. Blatstein said. "What if Philadelphia would be the first major city in the country that had a true entertainment complex in its core? This could be the most important project in the city's recent history."

Laid out end to end, the plans seemed to divide into two groups.

On the one side were the three South Philadelphia projects, with projected costs of $367 million to $480 million: Casino Revolution on Pattison Avenue at Front Street, proposed by Procacci; Live! Hotel & Casino, proposed by Greenwood Gaming and Cordish; and Hollywood Casino Philadelphia, proposed by Penn National.

On the other side were the three most expensive projects: the $500 million Market8, proposed for Eighth and Market Streets by Market East Associates LP, led by Mr. Goldenberg; Mr. Blatstein's Provence; and the $900 million Wynn Philadelphia, all of which were billed as "destinations," multilayered venues of nightlife, dining and lodging that just happen to have casinos.

"We're building a jewel where there is simply a parking lot now," said David Adelman, of Market East Associates.

He described Market8 as "a multidimensional urban entertainment center." Penn National Gaming had its own fans as it presented its $480 million plan. Penn National Gaming would own one third of the casino, and a nonprofit called Philadelphia Casino Benefit Corp. would own the rest and dedicate two-thirds of its cash flow to the city's school district and pension fund.

"We will provide a significant benefit to the city of Philadelphia," said Joe Domenico, director of Philadelphia Casino Benefit Corp. "We're dedicating funds to public education and the pension fund -- the two most pressing issues for the city."

Soft-spoken Mr. Procacci and Walter Lomax, a partner in $367 million Casino Revolution, touted their rags-to-riches rise in South Philadelphia, which they said reflected how hard work can lead to success. They underscored their deep ties to the area and said their casino would be the least intrusive to neighborhoods because it would be more than a mile from any residences.

"It's by Philadelphians for Philadelphians," said Joseph Canfora of Merit Management Group, which would operate Casino Revolution. "This a transformational project for South Philly."

Not all were impressed by the presentations. Members of Casino-Free Philadelphia, which has fought the development of casinos here, were in the audience, as were union members, interior designers, lawyers and consultants looking to work for the applicants.

This casino license is available because its original owner, Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia, was stripped of the license in December 2010 after going more than four years without developing its project.

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Suzette Parmley: sparmley@phillynews.com or 215-854-2855.


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