Casino applicants say they remain high on Philly

Nov 14, 2013 9:27 AM

Casino operators vying for a license in Philadelphia said they remain high on the city despite Las Vegas entrepreneur Steve Wynn’s decision to drop out of the running.

Wynn’s abrupt exit leaves five applicants competing for a second casino license in Philadelphia.

Applicants said they’re confident gamblers will support another casino, even as the Philadelphia market has softened over the last year. Revenues at the 3-year-old SugarHouse Casino are down slightly, as are revenues at casinos in the suburbs.

SugarHouse, in fact, sounded a note of caution Tuesday.

“SugarHouse is strongly committed to Philadelphia, although we believe the market is showing signs of saturation,” Chief Executive Officer Greg Carlin said in a statement.

Wynn abandoned plans Monday for a casino along the Philadelphia waterfront, citing competition from newly expanded gambling in New York state, along with Philadelphia’s “market performance” over the past year. A company spokesman declined further comment.

John Kempf at RBC Capital Markets said the first part of Wynn’s explanation puzzled him, since he wouldn’t expect an upstate New York casino to compete with one in Philadelphia.

“We’re a little bit skeptical about that,” he said.

Two of the remaining applicants want to put casinos in Center City, while three others have proposed building near the sports stadiums in south Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will hold hearings on the applications in January.

If the competitors are worried about a saturated gambling market, they’re not showing it.

“We are extremely bullish about the market,” developer Ken Goldenberg of the Market8 project in Center City said Tuesday. “We think we will become one of Philadelphia’s top five tourist attractions.”

Officials from the Casino Revolution, Hollywood Casino and Live! Hotel & Casino projects were similarly upbeat.

“We believe the proposal we’ve put forth is right-sized for the market -- unlike some of the pie-in-the-sky proposals some of the other applicants have presented,” said Karen Bailey, spokeswoman for Penn National Gaming, developer of the proposed Hollywood Casino in south Philadelphia. “Wynn’s decision to leave the market further proves our position on the capacity of the Philadelphia market.”

Pennsylvania’s first casino opened in November 2006, and the state is the second-largest gambling market.

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