Penn National makes pitch for Philly casino

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – As the race for Pennsylvania’s final stand-alone casino license entered a pivotal stretch Tuesday, state regulators heard from a pair of applicants whose visions for what will work in an increasingly crowded gambling market bore little resemblance to each other.

Developer Bart Blatstein billed his $700 million Provence casino as a glitzy destination resort in downtown Philadelphia that would attract high rollers and those who aspire to be.

Penn National Gaming Inc.’s more modest $480 million Hollywood Casino near the sports stadiums in south Philadelphia would target convenience gamblers across the river in New Jersey.

Not quite the difference between high-stakes poker and penny slots, but Blatstein and Penn National gave the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board plenty to consider as it picks the eventual winner. Three more applicants will make their pitches on Wednesday and Thursday. The board expects to make a decision within a few months.

Whoever gets the coveted license, the new casino will need to offer more than just slot machines and table games, one of the board members said.

“I don’t believe we have the capacity to open just another casino. We need something that’s more than just a casino,” said Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board member Gregory Fajt, addressing what he called the “elephant in the room.”

Pennsylvania’s casino industry suffered its first overall revenue decline last year since casino play began in 2006, dipping 1.4 percent to $3.1 billion. The state’s southeastern corner already has four casinos, including the SugarHouse Casino along the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

“Our gaming revenues are started to max out,” Fajt told The Associated Press during a break. “I do worry about cannibalizing revenues of our existing casinos by opening a new casino, and I think we need to take that into consideration.”

State law allows the city a second casino, but SugarHouse contends the market is already saturated and has asked the board to sit on the license.

Tuesday’s session in Philadelphia opened with Wyomissing-based Penn National’s Hollywood Casino proposal.

Fajt questioned whether the project is distinctive enough, asking Penn National executives “what you think will separate you from the myriad of other casinos within a 150-mile radius.” The company responded that convenience is gamblers’ No. 1 priority, pointing to the casino’s location near Interstates 76 and 95 and saying it would draw gamblers from southern New Jersey.

Penn National, owner of the Hollywood Casino northeast of Harrisburg, also touted its track record operating 26 facilities in 16 states and Canada.

“This is a very competitive market and experience does matter,” said Tim Wilmott, president and chief executive officer of Penn National.

Blatstein, meanwhile, wants to convert the former home of The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News into the French-themed Provence. He said his $700 million casino would be a world-class destination on par with the glitzy gambling resorts of Las Vegas, offer a strong mix of gambling, high-end shops and restaurants, entertainment venues, a hotel and many other amenities.

“Let’s dare to dream,” he told the board.

Two schools and a synagogue testified in opposition to Provence, saying they are concerned about traffic and parking.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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