Cuban, Marino join hunt for Penguins ownership

Jul 4, 2006 4:06 AM

A couple of Pittsburgh good old boys — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Hooters’ hotel/casino investor Dan Marino — are joining the hunt to acquire the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Owned by a group headed by hockey icon Mario Lemieux, the Penguins were put on the auction block despite efforts by the city and the state to generate private interest to build a new arena for the team.

In fact, Lemieux has partnered with Isle of Capri Casinos (ISLE) which has agreed to build a $290 million arena if it wins the solitary license that will be awarded for a slot machine parlor in the city. The problem there is that Isle of Capri is considered a longshot for the license behind groups headed by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) and Don Barden’s Majestic Star.

Those latter two bidders have been asked by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell to ante $7.5 million a year toward an arena with the Penguins ownership — whoever that may be — to contribute $8.5 million from the start and another $4 million a year thereafter including $1.1 million in naming rights.

Lemieux’s group hasn’t signed off on the contribution suggestion since Isle of Capri wouldn’t have to put up any money other that its $290 million commitment.

Cuban, a Pittsburgh native who made millions with an Internet company, and Marino, the star quarterback with the Miami Dolphins who played college football with the University of Pittsburgh, have made attempts at acquiring the Penguins in prior years.

In 1999, Cuban made a pitch to join the Lemieux group but was refused an opportunity to play an active role in the team’s day-to-day operation.

Marino, whose face adorns billboards that look down on Las Vegas traffic, advertising his restaurant at the Hooters’ Hotel/Casino on Tropicana Ave., expressed an interest in acquiring the Penguins in the mid-1990’s but never did so.

Heading their group is Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial Corp. of New York City. Another investor is the Pittsburgh-based Walnut Capital, a real estate management and development company.