A renowned casino operator wants to maximize local land it controls by creating a gaming hall.
Though more than 2,700 miles separate South Philly and Hollywood, Penn National Gaming Inc. desires to give the former a taste of the latter’s glamor.
The Wyomissing-based entity, which owns, operates or holds ownership interests in 29 gaming and racing facilities in 18 states and Ontario, Canada, hopes to secure a Category 2 slot machine license to cast Hollywood Casino Philadelphia at 700 Packer Ave. If successful, the company would oversee its second Keystone State site, make use of land on which it holds an option through the adjacent South Philadelphia Turf Club and look to funnel revenue to the School District of Philadelphia and the City’s Public Employees Retirement System.
“As Pennsylvania’s only publicly traded gaming company, we have always had an interest in expanding our investment in our home state,” Penn National spokeswoman Karen Bailey, whose employer runs the Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Dauphin County, said of its decision to conceive a 100,000-square-foot casino with 2,050 slot machines, 66 live table games and a 15-table poker room.
The Berks County corporation envisions a two-phase plan should it win approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which in the fall received six applications from parties looking to offer as many as 5,000 slot machines and 250 table games. The board issued a call for proposals in the summer based on its December 2010 revocation of trust in the Foxwoods Casino project, which would have operated on South Columbus Boulevard from Tasker to Reed streets. Penn National’s first phase would feature the above amenities, a 3,500-vehicle-capacity garage, numerous dining options and a 180-seat entertainment lounge for live acts. Principals, including Chairman and CEO Peter Carlino, are contemplating an expansion with 1,000 more slot machines, 40 table and five poker games, more culinary options and parking along with a 500-room hotel.
Bailey added that Penn National, which acquired the prospective gaming hall territory after conversations with Turf Club personnel, estimates it can help to create 2,000 jobs for what would be its 13th facility with the “Hollywood Casino” appellation. Totaling $480 million, the proposed project is facing competition from two developers who want a Center City site, one who wishes for a Fishtown spot and two who crave a South Philly destination, PHL Local Gaming LLC, which would erect Casino Revolution between South Front and Third streets, with Packer and Pattison avenues as the main thoroughfares, and Stadium Casino LLC, whose principals include The Cordish Companies, a co-owner of Xfinity Live! Philadelphia, 1100 Pattison Ave., eager to build Stadium Casino adjacent to the Holiday Inn, 900 Packer Ave.
“We looked at other sites in the city but determined that our location at 700 Packer Ave. was an ideal location for many reasons, namely, the easy access from [interstates] 76 and 95, as well as the synergy of all the people the Stadium District attracts,” Bailey said of a stretch that includes Citizens Bank Park, 1 Citizens Bank Way; Lincoln Financial Field, 1101 Pattison Ave.; and the Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad St.
Noting that Penn National is the nation’s most active developer of new entertainment and gaming locations with six facilities opening in the last five years, a Nov. 15 company release also revealed that figures have engaged local politicians, including 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, whose district contains the desired expanse, in discussions. It goes on to announce a possible relocation to the 300 block of Packer Avenue, a 27-acre stretch that until 2011 comprised portions of the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, informally called the Food Distribution Center.
“We are exploring the potential of the 300 Packer [Avenue] site and don’t have any other details to offer on that site at this time,” Bailey said of reports that the latter spot, under the ownership of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., would help Penn National to maximize its slot and table options.
If the company wins, it anticipates a mid-2016 opening, according to its application, which required the submission of a $50 million letter of bond or credit to cover the slot license, yet no matter its location, the ’04 Pennsylvania Racehorse Development and Gaming Act prevents it from owning more than one-third of the new establishment because it runs another state hall. Because of that limit, Penn National has formed a nonprofit with Joe Domenico, former general manager of the Bally’s and Showboat properties in Atlantic City, N.J. as the chairman. That organization could benefit the school district and the City’s pension fund, with the potential aid and the creation of jobs leading Johnson, of 18th and Manton streets, to tab the philanthropic element “an interesting concept.”
“Any projects that are proposed for my district must have a community benefit that focuses on creating jobs and improving the quality of life in the community,” the second-year legislator, who at a Dec. 6 City Council session submitted a resolution requesting a hearing on supporting the district and retirement funds that he hopes will occur Feb. 7, said.
The Point Breeze resident added the Hollywood Casino project could thwart calls for property tax increases that fund the district, which is facing a likely five-year cumulative budget deficit that stands at $1.3 billion. The City’s annual pension costs, which checked in at $200 million a decade ago, have reached more than $500 million, he said, and his employer, with a $3.5 billion annual budget, faces a huge gap between what it has promised to workers and what it has set aside to pay.
“We’re looking at our own fiscal cliff on some levels,” Johnson said. “With our budget and our troubles, we’re not able to fund libraries and recreation centers to the extent we would like. Because the alternative plan puts the casino at Third and Packer, a non-residential area, I find the proposal pretty appealing. We’re looking to alleviate many burdens and trying to find what’s good for the City, taxpayers and our school children.”
“If anybody wants to start a charitable trust that will bring equity, we will be very interested,” Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, who also mentioned the Pennsylvania Constitution bars the City from being an equity partner in a casino, added of possibly pairing with the nonprofit, which would allot two-thirds of Penn National’s earnings to the cash-strapped entities.
Penn Gaming’s economic and fiscal report states Hollywood Casino’s annual direct and indirect impact for the commonwealth could hit $596 million, and a chart estimates $27 million annually reaching Philadelphia through standard revenue sources such as sales and wage taxes in addition to the nonprofit’s endowments, with a guaranteed floor figure of $2 million.
Gabe Miller, of Third and South streets, said it will be interesting to see what the different companies say during the April 11 and 12 public hearings at the Pennsylvania Convention Center
“Especially for South Philly, I want to hear what kind of real benefit they can provide. Out of them all, this proposal has true promise,” Miller said.
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.
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