Wynn wins chance to resurrect Philly casino

Mar 4, 2010 6:22 PM

Casino mogul Steve Wynn was alternately cheered and heckled Wednesday on his first visit to Pennsylvania’s capital, where he got the opportunity he sought to try to rescue a long-stalled casino project on Philadelphia’s waterfront. 

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board temporarily put off any decision on yanking the license of the financially troubled Foxwoods Philadelphia Casino until Wynn has a chance to show them his plans to take it over and build a $600 million casino.

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The recession has sunk a number of casino projects around the country. Foxwoods Philadelphia became the second one in Pennsylvania in need of a rescue, prompting its investors to reach out to Wynn.

Still, a number of conditions could prevent Wynn from taking control and some board members remained skeptical about the agreement with Foxwoods.

"I have very grave concerns about whether a change of control ... will ever occur," board member Ken Trujillo said during the four-hour board meeting.

The information the board received from Wynn was "interesting, but completely lacking and certainly not the clear and convincing evidence this board needs," Trujillo added.

A change of control requires board approval, as do plans to finance and build a casino.

To keep the pressure on Foxwoods, the board left intact a $2,000-per-day fine. Foxwoods Philadelphia has paid $186,000 since failing to meet a December deadline to provide information about its financing, design and construction.

The Foxwoods Philadelphia group — a partnership including the Connecticut Indian tribe that owns Foxwoods Casino and the charities of three wealthy businessmen, Lewis Katz, Ron Rubin, and Ed Snider — won a license in December 2006. However, the project stalled because of local opposition and the tribe’s financial problems.

Wynn, a billionaire and the chief executive and chairman of Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts Ltd. (WYNN), now has until March 31 to submit a plan to finance the casino and until April 26 to submit construction and design details. He would take a 51 percent stake in the project; the Foxwoods investors would remain aboard, but with smaller ownership shares.

The state and city would take more than half of the casino’s slots revenues and 16 percent of table-game revenue.

Wynn, 68, is credited with bringing elegant restaurants, shopping and entertainment, such as Cirque du Soleil, to Las Vegas in 1989 and the 1990s when he opened the Mirage, Bellagio and Treasure Island casinos.

His current company owns two casinos in Las Vegas and one in Macau. To build the Philadelphia casino, he said he would invest $250 million of his own money and borrow the rest.

On Wednesday, Wynn arrived at the Capitol complex in Harrisburg, where he was cheered lustily by busloads of blue-collar union members from Philadelphia.

However, anti-casino demonstrators heckled Foxwoods officials as they opened their presentation to the board. Capitol police escorted more than a dozen out, one by one, as they stood to speak. At one point, the heckling prompted board Chairman Greg Fajt to call a recess.

Wynn, a one-time student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, tried to emphasize his connection to the city.

"I feel like I’m coming home in Philadelphia," he said.