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State Gaming Board Holding Off On Decision For 2nd Philadelphia Casino License

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The state’s gaming board is holding off on a decision about what to do with the second casino license currently slotted for Philadelphia, opting to wait to see if the Legislature might act on the issue rather than begin accepting applications now.

William Ryan, chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, said the board met this week to discuss what to do with the license, which it revoked from a Foxwoods-led group in December 2010 after a long-stalled project never got off the ground.

“At least for now, we decided not to do anything,” Ryan said in an interview, noting that the board could have decided to begin accepting applications for the license. “At present, we don’t plan to do anything. But we will revisit the issue … in the not-too-distant future.”

Eleven casinos are up and running in Pennsylvania, which legalized casino gambling in 2004 and saw its first casino open two years later. By law, Pennsylvania could one day be home to 14 casinos, but three of them—including the second license slotted for Philadelphia—remain in limbo: One of those licenses is tied to a yet-to-be-built horse racing track and the other was awarded to a southwestern Pennsylvania resort but is being challenged in court.

Of those casinos in limbo, Ryan said, the board only has control over the second Philadelphia license.

The board awarded the second “resort” casino to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort outside Pittsburgh, but one of the losing bidders for that license has appealed to the state Supreme Court and no decision has been announced. Additionally, Ryan said, the board has not received any applications for the second racetrack license, so that also remains out of the board’s hands.

“I don’t believe that there’s anything this board can do until a qualified applicant comes along and makes an application,” Ryan said of the racetrack license.

That leaves decisions on the second Philadelphia license. One casino, Sugarhouse Casino, has been up and running in the city since September 2010, but the second license has been open since the board revoked Foxwoods license after its project ran into financial problems and other issues.

There are now four casinos up and running in the Philadelphia region: Sugarhouse in the city, Parx Casino in the northern suburbs, Harrah’s Philadelphia in the southern suburb of Chester and Valley Forge Casino Resort to the west. That has led some to worry about possible saturation in the region, with the House passing legislation to open up the second Philadelphia license for bid statewide.

The prospects remain unclear in the Legislature. The Senate has not acted on that bill and has not reached consensus on what to do with that open license, said Sen. Jane Earll, R-Erie, chair of the Community, Economic and Recreational Development committee.

Overall, the biggest issue facing the Legislature, Earll said, is trying to get consensus on what to do with the second Philadelphia license. But she said there has been no consensus on whether to keep it in Philadelphia, bid it statewide or kill the license altogether.

“It’s unclear what consensus can be generated in the fall,” Earll said. “Clearly, (there are) interest groups that want to keep it in Philly. There’s groups that want to kill it totally. There’s groups that want to put it back in play statewide.”

So, for now, it remains a waiting game. The board is waiting for a successful bidder to come forward for the racetrack license, waiting for the courts to rule on the challenge to the Nemacolin license and waiting for the Legislature to decide what to do with the Philadelphia license.

“We have been basically delaying a decision to give the General Assembly time to act, if the General Assembly and the governor have the inclination to move it or do away with it,” Ryan said. “What we will do is again monitor what the General Assembly is doing.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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