Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Trump Talk

This just in from Inquirer reporter Suzette Parmley, who got Trump on the phone in his New York office.

Parmley reports that Trump has no plans to appeal. But he doesn't sound happy.

"I'm very disappointed in Gov. Rendell," said Trump, whose application was the only applicant proposing to build a casino off the waterfront. "Here was a chance to turn a bad area into a really good neighborhood."

But Trump's a realist, apparently.

"It's one of those things," he told Parmley. "It's a deal that didn't happen, and we just have to move on to the next deal."


Rendell: no politics, just merit

Gov. Rendell was all about showing the love earlier today when speaking to reporters about the gaming board's decision.

The governor said he thought the board did "a great job," adding that he believes the choices it made were chosen based on merit, not politics.

He said he was surprised by a few of the winners, including the selection of Detroit-based casino developer Don H. Barden -- the underdog for Pittsburgh's slots license.

He was also surprised by Trump's loss in Philadelphia.

"Donald Trump is one of the biggest names in the industry," said Rendell, pointing out that Trump was also a good friend of his and that he never tried to influence the board about his application.

The governor did appear to get a little testy when Patriot News reporter Charlie Thompson questioned his statement about how political connections did not play a role. Thompson asked Rendell whether he was disappointed, for instance, that Louis DeNaples, an applicant with a felony conviction, got a casino license.

"Is he more politically connected than Ron Rubin [of Foxwoods] or the group that was proposing to build at the incinerator site [Riverwalk]" Rendell asked, later adding that DeNaples has been certified by various federal and state agencies as fit to do business. "Almost every application ... had tremendous political connections."

((Just to set the record straight: Rendell's comments aside, Ron Rubin himself is not an investor in Foxwoods. The Rubin family has set up a charitable trust that is in an investor, and plans on turning over its portion of profits to charity)).


One Man's post mortem....

Some parting thoughts from the Susquehanna Financial Group's gambling analyst, Robert LaFleur, who correctly predicted four out of the five licenses....

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

PA Gaming License Post Mortem

ISLE: Positive; LVS: Positive; HET: Neutral; PNK: None; TRMP: None

Robert A. LaFleur

Robert Shore


After a tremendous build-up, it was over in minutes. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) voted for the first license at around 11:24am E.T. this morning, and by 11:31am five licenses had been awarded.

There were few surprises, and four out of our five predicted winners prevailed. The winners for the two Philadelphia licenses were HSP Gaming (the SugarHouse project) and Philadelphia Entertainment (the Foxwoods project). These were our two top picks.

Prior to yesterday we had Foxwoods and Pinnacle running neck and neck, but gave the nod to Foxwoods after their final pleading yesterday. The two at-large winners were LVS's Bethworks project in the Lehigh Valley and Mt. Airy in the Poconos. These two projects had been our front-runners for the at-large licenses for many months.

The biggest surprise, and our biggest miss, was Pittsburgh. The PGCB shunned both Isle of Capri Casinos and HET/Forest City, and awarded the lone Pittsburgh license to PITG (Don Barden's project). Apparently the Board was not nearly as concerned about the fate of the Pittsburgh Penguins as we thought they would be.

Overall, four of the five awardees were private companies. The only public company to win a license was LVS. ISLE, PNK, HET, and TRMP were all shut out.


What's next?
Applicants who did not win have the right to appeal to the State Supreme Court. We think there is little chance that any of the appeals will be heard, let alone be successful, but the winners do not officially receive their licenses until the appeals process runs its course. Our PA sources tell us that this process could take 4-6 months before the final licenses are issued. It is not clear if the successful applicants will go ahead and begin early construction on their projects before physically receiving their licenses or not. During the next several weeks we also expect the PGCB to issue evaluations of each of the applications and the rationale used for selecting or rejecting each applicant. These assessments are expected by mid-January.

What helped, what hurt: nearby competition?
From those applicants that were granted licenses, a couple of issues jump out. First, no company with properties in Atlantic City was granted a license. TRMP, PNK, and Aztar/Tropicana, who each have properties in Atlantic City, were all denied a license. Two of the successful applicants have no other gaming properties (SugarHouse and Mt. Airy). The gaming interests of the other three successful applicants are well away from Pennsylvania: LVS (Las Vegas, Macau), PITG/Don Barden (Gary, Black Hawk, Las Vegas, and Tunica), and Foxwoods (Connecticut). It would also appear that having a frequent player program - for which applicants who had them (HET and TRMP) touted as a potential driver of business - was not seen in a favorable light by the Board. Perhaps the PGCB thought these programs were as (or more) likely to export Pennsylvania patrons to other properties as they were to import patrons from elsewhere into PA.

What helped, what hurt: tax take vs. community impact?
Clearly revenue generation was not the sole factor the Board considered. Most observers in Philadelphia thought one inland and one riverfront casino would generate the most revenue. TRMP, the only inland casino, did not win, so this clearly was not the sole factor. In fact, internal revenue projections were highest for TRMP and Planet Hollywood, and neither won. TRMP could not overcome its AC conflicts, community opposition, and the Board's apparent skepticism that its project would be a net benefit to its host community. That said, outside Philly, the two at-large licenses went to the projects with the highest projected revenue generation. Neither the Mt. Airy nor LVS received much community opposition, while both offered clear revitalization benefits.

What helped, what hurt: focus on the casino?
PITG won in Pittsburgh by focusing on the casino. PITG stayed out of the Penguins arena debate and let HET/Forest City and ISLE beat each other up over the issue. Yesterday the PGCB was clearly agitated that so much of the debate in Pittsburgh had focused on the arena and not the casino. When asked about whether its lack of a player tracking system would hurt its prospects, PITG said that it was focused on running a casino in Pittsburgh for people who lived in and around Pittsburgh, not moving people between casinos. It also helped that the Board's revenue projections for PITG were higher than the competitors.

What helped, what hurt: connections?
While political connections, local ties, degree of minority ownership, and other "inside baseball" factors were supposed to play a big role in these PA license awards, at the end of the day we think, by and large, the best all-around projects won. The process seemed about as fair as it could be.


Councilman Frank DiCicco plans an appeal...

Councilman DiCicco is far from pleased with the Gaming Board's decision. Check out his press release below.

News from
Councilman Frank DiCicco
1st District
For Immediate Release

Councilman Frank DiCicco announced that he intends to file an appeal after the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s announced that SugarHouse and Foxwoods Casinos would be issued gaming licenses.

The lawsuit will challenge the issuance of a license to Foxwoods and will explore how and why the PGCB made their final determination.

“There were a lot of concerns raised over this proposal. Concerns not just from community activists, but from engineers, city officials and politicians.” DiCicco said. “I find it difficult to believe that the Board ignored these concerns and I’d like to know why they did.”

In his written testimony in June, DiCicco raised several concerns regarding Foxwoods’ proposal including increased traffic congestion and its proximity to a residential neighborhood. In the same statement, DiCicco was less critical of SugarHouse but did express reservations about the site’s proximity to near neighbors.

Last week, DiCicco had asked the PGCB to delay their announcement for six weeks to address the problems created if two facilities were built on the River. In addition, he believes that a delay would allow the waterfront planning process to be completed in order to provide the Board with specific recommendations.

“Not surprisingly, the Board ignored my constituents and me when they came to this decision,” DiCicco continued, “I think it’s a horrible decision. I will do everything I can to delay construction of the facilities until some of these serious concerns are addressed.”

Regardless of the result of the lawsuit, concerns will still exist over the near neighbors’ quality-of-life. DiCicco pledges to work with the communities and the developers to address these issues and has stated that he will delay zoning approval until agreements can be reached.

Four of the five gaming proposals were located in DiCicco’s district and the Councilman has established himself as a leader on the issue. His efforts include providing written and oral testimony before the PGCB, sponsoring the City’s casino zoning classification, fighting and winning the retention of the City’s zoning rights, calling on the PGCB to delay its decision and sponsoring several resolutions.


Tad Decker speaks - kind of....

Now that we know the "who" and the "where," we'd like to know why.

But after the meeting today, Gaming Control Board chairman Tad Decker would not give any insight into why the board chose the applicants they did (in Philly's case, that would be SugarHouse and Foxwood casinos). He said the board -- which fashions itself kind of like a court of judges -- will be issuing a written opinion within a couple of weeks.

He did say members deliberated for four hours yesterday before making up their mind -- which some critics pointed out was record time for what should be a weighty matter.

Decker's explanation: "We have been thinking about this individually for months."

--A.C. and J.S.

Other winners from around the state...

The winners for the other standalone casinos around the state:

Las Vegas-based casiono operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. won a license for a casino in Bethlehem.

Louis A. DeNaples won a license for Poconos Mountain.

And in Pittsburgh, Detroit-based Casino developer Don H. Barden was awarded the sole slots license.


The losers...

TrumpStreet Casino (on the former Budd plant site in Nicetown); Riverwalk Casino (at Delaware Avenue and Spring Garden), and Pinnacle Entertainment (in Fishtown, at Beach Street and Schirra Ave).
Only two licenses could be awarded in Philadelphia, and they went to Foxwoods and SugarHouse.
More to come...

Street sees "new day" for Philadelphia....

Mayor Street said the city will work with SugarHouse and Foxwoods, the two applicants who were awarded licenses to operate slots casinos on the Delaware River. (Street, as you all may already know, had supported the slots application by Riverwalk, whose investors included former Philadelphia city solicitor Ken Trujillo, Philly NAACP chairman J. Whyatt Mondesire and Philadelphia Tribune publisher Robert W. Bogle).

"It will be a huge boost to the waterfront," the mayor said. "You will be able to see these facilities from [Interstate] 95. People driving by will look and see these facilities and they'll stop and get engaged."

"This could be very great for us," he said. "This in some ways signals a huge new day for us in the city of Philadelphia."


To recap...

Philly will have two casinos, one in South Philly on Columbus Blvd. (just north of Home Depot and WalMart); and one in Fishtown, on North Delaware Ave. at Shackamaxon St. in Fishtown

And the other winner is...

And Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia, a $560 million project in South Philadelphia...

And the first winner is....

SugarHouse Casino: a 550 million project on North Delaware Ave. Project would include 3,000 slot machines

Of note....

Board member Chip Marshall is announcing that he will recuse himself from voting on TrumpStreet. He is the chairman and CEO of Temple University Health System, which has a lease agreement with a landowner who has sold property to Trump.

Chairman Tad Decker says he will recuse himself from voting on SugarHouse's application for a casino in Fishtown. Decker said he is the prior chairman of the Philadelphia law firm of Cozen O'Connor, which did work for SugarHouse after he left the firm.

--A.C. and J.S.

Here we go....

They have dispensed with routine business matters, and now board members will start voting on licenses. But first, there must be speeches...Up now: Chairman Tad Decker. Stay tuned.


Sands Bethworks opponents shot down

The board denied a last minute formal petition by the Bethlehem Defense Fund to intervene on the application of Sands Bethworks.

No resort licenses to be awarded

Board formally approved withdrawal of Woodlands Fayette, LLC, meaning there are no applicants for the 2 resort slots licenses authorized in 2004. Board chairman Tad Decker said the board would consider in January reopening the application process for the resort licenses, which allow only 500 machines, rather than the 5000 authorized at the race tracks and stand-alone slots parlors.

Still no decision on applicants.

They're in...

The board just started its meeting. Chairman Tad Decker apologized for the delay, saying they had some personnel matters to take care of this morning.

The plan is, they will take care of some routine business first, and then begin voting on the slots licenses.


Desperately Seeking Donald?

Board members have yet to show, and folks are getting a little antsy.

Antsy enough that people are starting to spread rumors. The hottest one so far: that Donald Trump had pulled up in a limo outside the Forum and was giving interviews.

Yeah, right. This is, after all, Harrisburg.

A quick check with Larry Ceisler, who is consulting for TrumpStreet (one of the five applicants vying for a Philly slots license) confirms that, indeed, this is not the case.

In the meantime, the auditorium looks like one big cocktail party, minus the cocktails unfortunately.


Let's get it started!

10:09 a.m. and no meeting yet. Word is that thing is going to go pretty quickly. My prediction -- decisions by 11:30.

The Mayor is pumped!

Mayor John Street is holding forth, less than 15 minutes before post time. He is definitely excited about the prospect of the casinos in his his city, the nation's fifth largest.

"This going to be good for us," said the Mayor. "The whole world is going to be watching the Philadelphia experiment in gaming." Street said.

It's more than an experiment for Street -- it's a way to build infrastructure along the waterfront, leading the way for the linking of the waterfront from the Schuylkill up the Delaware, including new subway extensions to the Navy Yard and residential development there. He said that Foxwoods, the southerly most site on Delaware Avenue, has serious traffic issues (he shops down there a lot, he told us Monday), but he thinks a new 95-exti ramp will help solve the problems.

The Mayor came out and Monday and backed the Riverwalk Casino, because of it's local and minority ownership. He reiterated that today, saying how it would help to spread the money around to local people. As he was speaking, in walked his former solicitor, Ken Trujillo, one of the Riverwalk partners, who told me last week that he would apparently be the first Hispanic casino owner in America. Trujillo's Spanish ancestors settled in New Mexico in the 1700s, so they've been waiting a long time...


NOTE: This was posted at 10 a.m., not 6:54 a.m. We have solved that time-stamp problem, I am told.

Fox saves the day

The auditorium at the Forum -- where the Gaming Control Board is prepping to meet in less than an hour -- is filling up with dark suits: Lobbyists. Lawyers. Financial types. And, of course, the folks who have the real stake in the game: the applicants vying for slots licenses.

Attorney Dick Sprague, who is part of the group pushing for a slots parlor on Delaware Avenue in Philly, is on hand bright and early, surrounded by well-wishers. "We're keeping our fingers crossed," he said. "The jury is out deliberating, and I never talk when the jury is out deliberating."

But he says he's not nervous. Just hopeful.

Ditto for Andy and Lucy Jurcak, but for different reasons. They bought a retirement home in Straban Township, near Gettysburg in 2002 -- never intending to spend their golden years with the proposed Crossroads casino project a mile away.

"There's been so much controversy, when it should be a no-brainer," said Andy, first of a number of anti-casino locals who began filing in an hour before the hearing.

Little do they know someone, at least, is looking out for them. That would be Fox, a 2-year-old German Shepherd and a proud member of the Capitol Police's K-9 unit. He too was on hand bright and early, sniffing away for bombs in the auditorium (with special attention paid to the stage where board members will be sitting).

The good news: no explosives on hand.

--AC and JS

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Game On!

From Inquirer co-blogger Jeff Shields:

As I'm writing this at 8:53 p.m. Tuesday, members of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board are done with their deliberations and getting ready to come out and vote on the five standalone slots casinos in Pennsylvania.

We know this: Philadelphia will get two, Pittsburgh will get one, and the Lehigh Valley almost certainly will get one, either in Allentown or Bethlehem (not both - they're too close). Two proposals in the Poconos and one just outside of Gettysburg will fight for the last one.

InPhiladelphia, it looks like SugarHouse, at Delaware Avenue and Frankford (the billboards will help you find it!), is the absolute favorite. As one observer in the industry told me, "I haven't heard a scenario without SugarHouse."

Gaming analyst Robert LaFleur of Susquehanna Financial Group lays SugarHouse at 3-to-5 to win a slots license. LaFleur gives both Pinnacle, off North Delaware Ave. near the Girard interchange, and the Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia on Delaware Ave. (Columbus Blvd., for sticklers) in South Philly in second at 6-to-5 odds. TrumpStreet in Nicetown/East Falls follows at 5-to-2 and Riverwalk at 9-to-2.

I think LaFleur is on the money. Based on what I saw at the Gaming Control Board hearings, I think they are skeptical about Trump's past financial troubles and his Atlantic City properties. The board seemed very concerned that Trump and/or Pinnacle might concentrate on lower end clients in Pennsylvania (in concord with the fears of neighborhood groups) and focus sending more affluent customers to Atlantic City. If Trump (and Inquirer publisher Brian Tierney!) get a license, it will be because the board doesn't want to overload the waterfront and/or like the idea of a casino closer to the wealthy 'burbs.

As for Riverwalk, the board seemed concerned about its ownership structure, and its small site poses problems, though Mayor Street correctly pointed out on Monday that Riverwalk takes advantage of public transit (Spring Garden SEPTA stop) better than any of the projects. The board never seemed overly concerned about this -- but doesn't anyone take public transit to go out anymore? Riverwalk promised to help spruce up the SEPTA stop if chosen.

That would leave Pinnacle and Foxwoods scrapping for the other license. Pinnacle, built around a man-made lagoon on the waterfront and with the least neighborhood impact, would be an interesting choice, because if chosen with SugarHouse, would concentrate all casino action in Northern Liberties/Fishtown/New Kensington/Port Richmond. Traffic would be a mess at least until 2013, the projected completion of the new I-95 Girard exit, which would lead right into Pinnacle.

Foxwoods could very well be the second choice as well, but would South Philly stand for it? Just last week neighborhood activists unearthed a 1979 consent decree that prohibits the building of any additional exit ramps between the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges without neighborhood consent. Foxwoods needs a ramp if it is going to address the already bad traffic situation on Delaware Ave. because of large retail outlets like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Ikea. Pennsport neighbors were holding a protest vigil at the site tonight in protest.

While we've obviously concentrated on Philadelphia, and will continue to, the impact for the rest of the state will be huge.

In Pittsburgh, one of the three proposals, Isle of Capri, has promised to build a new hockey arena that would keep the Penguins NHL franchise in town. LaFleur and star analyst Andrew Zarnett of Deutschebank (Zarnett made no picks in Philly) rate Isle as the favorite because of that, but Harrahs/Forest City's proposal for Station Square and Don Barden's PITG Gaming on the North Shore offer formidable competition, but can they save the Pens?

Perhaps the most compelling story in the state is the contest between the Aztar Tropicana in Allentown and Sands Bethworks in Bethlemen, regarded as two of the best proposals in the state in the most fertile market outside of Philly and Pittsburgh. Only one can win.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski has practically begged the board for a license to rescue his ailing town. But experts predict that Bethworks plan for the abandoned Bethlehem Steel plant has to the potnential to be a showpiece for the state and draw people from Northern New Jersey so that Pennsylvania's aren't shouldering all the burden of the hoped for $1 billion in property tax relief.

Both LaFleaur and Zarnett like Sands as their favorite. LaFleur predicts the last license will to either one of two proposals in the Poconos, which have the potential to draw not just from New Jersey from the NYC metro area. Louis DeNaples, a prodigious political contributor, is rebuilding the Mt. Airy Lodge all by himself, and is seen as the favorite by LaFleur over Greg Matzel's Pocono Manor, an ambitious project which should not be counted out.

And if you thought the battle of Gettysburg was bloody, let's see what happens if the board licenses a casino a mile from the battlefield. While that market is seen as a potential gold mine, (Zarnett recommends it with Sands for the two at-large licenses), drawing customers from Maryland and D.C., the disqualifer may be that the project would be hurt tremendously if Maryland were to legalize slots, which may happen under a new, more gambling-friendly administration there. That may push Gettysburg out of the competition more than the local and national opposition to erecting a gambling hall near the sacred battlefield.

Based on all of the above, I would predict SugarHouse and Pinnacle in Philly (My sympathies to Allen Street!); Isle of Capri in Pittsburgh; and Sands-Bethworks and Pocono Manor (as a dark horse) for the five. Let's see what happens.