PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Gamblers from southeastern Pennsylvania and across the border into New Jersey already have their pick of four nearby casinos. Amid two years of softening revenues, can the region’s casino market bear a fifth?
That’s the question confronting state gambling regulators as they meet this week to decide whether, and to whom, to award Philadelphia’s second and final casino license.READ MORE: Philadelphia School District Reveals In-Person High School Graduation Plans For 1st Time Since Pandemic
The city has waited a long time for its second casino after state regulators pulled the plug on the failed Foxwoods project in 2010. Boosters say it could mean new tax revenue for state and local coffers and thousands of new construction and permanent jobs.
But there are worries that a new gambling facility will simply poach customers from casinos that can scarcely afford to lose them, in a market that some experts say is already saturated or coming close. They point to the experience of nearby Atlantic City, where four casinos have shuttered this year.
“There’s no way this market can handle another casino,” said Alan Woinski, president of Gaming USA, a New Jersey-based consulting and publishing company. He warns of a worst-case scenario in which competitors might have to lay off workers or even ask the state for a bailout.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is considering proposals from four applicants. Two want to build downtown, while two others propose building near the sports complex in south Philadelphia.
The casinos with the most to lose — SugarHouse in Philadelphia and Harrah’s Philadelphia in suburban Chester — say that adding another casino is foolhardy, while some of the region’s lawmakers and at least one member of the gambling board, Gregory Fajt, have publicly expressed concern about saturation.
“The eastern Pennsylvania market hasn’t done poorly; it’s ramped up pretty nicely, but it appears to be topped off,” said Keith Foley, senior vice president and gambling analyst at Moody’s Investors Service Inc., adding he expects a new casino to cannibalize existing facilities.
But the applicants say there’s still room to grow.
“Philadelphia clearly has the population and visitor base to support the additional Philadelphia license,” said Joseph Weinberg, managing partner with The Cordish Cos., which is teaming with Greenwood Racing Inc. on the proposed Live! Hotel & Casino near the Philadelphia Phillies’ ballpark.READ MORE: Derek Chauvin Trial: Philly Police Urge Port Richmond Businesses To Prepare For Possible Unrest Ahead Of Verdict
A report done this year for state lawmakers concluded that while SugarHouse and Harrah’s would take a hit, a second Philadelphia license would net the state tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue. Critics say the projections were far too rosy, but the report’s author, Philadelphia-based Econsult Solutions, stands by its work.
“The total win in the state of Pennsylvania would increase,” said Peter Angelides, an Econsult principal and senior vice president.
A “qualified majority” of the seven-member gambling board would need to agree on any licensing decision, including all four legislative appointees and at least one of the three gubernatorial appointees. The board meets Tuesday in Philadelphia.
No matter what regulators decide, chances are the license will wind up in court. Disputes over six of the casino licenses — including all but one for which there were multiple applicants — wound up before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. All of the board’s decisions have been upheld.
SugarHouse and any of the four applicants have standing to appeal the decision in this case.
“The easy way is to grant it, pass the buck, let a lawsuit happen, and five years down the road this finally gets sorted out and a casino gets built,” said Woinski. “The hard way out is to actually look at the market . and if you do that, there is no way you issue this license.”
Gambling board spokesman Doug Harbach declined to comment on the upcoming licensing decision.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)MORE NEWS: Philadelphia-Area Clinics Temporarily Close, Pivot After FDA, CDC Recommend Pausing Use Of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 Vaccine
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