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The Owners of Philadelphia's Two Newly Licensed Casinos: SugarHouse Casino
 and Foxwoods Casino, Represents a Powerful Elite of Business and Politics
By Jeff Shields, The Philadelphia InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Dec. 22, 2006 - One has a World Series ring, another has three Olypmic gold medals, another headed a congressional commission investigating the Kennedy assassination and yet another built The Linc.

They include some of the most powerful people in Pennsylvania, one of entertainment's most accomplished artists, and a former state Supreme Court justice.

And now they are the owners of Philadelphia's two newly licensed slots casinos: SugarHouse Casino and Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia, both on the Delaware River.

Some say their political connections helped them best three other competitors for two available licenses in Philadelphia; others say their individual accomplishments are enough to stand on their own.

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board chairman Tad Decker said it didn't matter who the investors were, as long as everyone cleared a background check.

"It was the projects that won, not the individuals," Decker said yesterday, a day after Wednesday's decision. "Once they passed character suitability, it didn't matter at that point who they were."

Now, each ownership group stands to make about $75 million in profits a year, based on their own revenue projections and assuming a 20 percent profit margin -- a fair estimate for the gambling industry, said John O'Neill, assistant professor of hospitality management at the Pennsylvania State University.

That's also after the casinos have paid the state's 54 percent tax, one of the nation's highest, imposed to generate money for property- and wage-tax relief.

Competitors, community groups, and other aggrieved parties can appeal Wednesday's decisions, in which five licenses were handed out statewide. That appeals process could easily last six months, observers say.

Neither casino will open until 2008, but Philadelphia Park already has slots in operation, and Harrah's Chester Race Track and Casino in Delaware County will start operating next month.

There are a total of 30 individual and corporate investors in the two riverfront projects.

Some of the well-known names at Foxwoods include formidable political power trio of developer Ronald Rubin, New Jersey Nets partner Lewis Katz and Comcast Spectacor chairman Ed Snider. They are setting up trusts and promise to give away all their casino profits, estimated to be about $30 million a year.

When Philadelphia Magazine in 2005 ranked Rubin 21st on its list of the most powerful Philadelphians, it called him "the rare dealmaker who's honest enough to earn the trust of Wall Street's biggest fund managers, yet savvy enough to push his projects through City Hall." Rubin, founder and CEO of Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), has been a big financial supporter of Gov. Rendell and State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) over the years.

Rubin's partners, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, with 29.5 percent of the project, have brought Native Americans' unprecedented financial and political clout to the Philadelphia project through their ownership of the Foxwoods resort in Connecticut.

Also boasting accomplishments are the local owners with small shares in Foxwoods including Billy King, 76ers president, who in 2003 was named one of Sports Illustrated's "101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports."

Sports fans know that Garry Maddox -- who, like King, has a 0.8 percent share -- won eight gold gloves for the Phillies and helped them win the World Series in 1980.

But do they know he was just reelected to his second three-year term on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank? And that's not because he could shag fly balls. He is CEO and majority owner of the Philadelphia-based furniture company A. Pomerantz & Co., and he owns World Wide Concessions, a provider of corporate gifts and promotional items.

Dawn Staley, the Temple women's basketball coach who doubles as the most accomplished female basketball player of our time, can cash in her three Olympic medals if her expected $500,000 share isn't enough.

Quincy Delight Jones Jr.'s resume is like a storybook -- and, indeed, a movie was made about his life in 1990. The man with 26 Grammys has 4 percent of the project, which should earn him close to $3 million annually.

At SugarHouse, builder Daniel Keating called his team "a well-oiled machine." Keating said Neil Bluhm, the billionaire Chicagoan whose family has almost 60 percent of the project, let the local team "solve every issue from the ground up."

Keating's smallish share -- 3.3 percent -- could still earn him $2.4 million a year. His Keating Group has built 20 casinos, the Hyatt on the Delaware River and Lincoln Financial Field. It will build the $550-million project.

His partners include auto magnate Robert M. Potamkin, former state Supreme Court Justice William L. Lamb, and super-lawyer Richard A. Sprague, ranked 38th on Philadelphia Magazine's power list.

Sprague, who grew a fierce reputation as a city prosecutor, was named chief counsel in 1976 to the House Selection Commission on Assassinations.

Sprague famously won $34 million in a 1990 judgment against The Inquirer for stories questioning his handling of a homicide case as a prosecutor. The case was later settled out of court while it was under appeal.

Sprague has a tiny portion of the SugarHouse project, less than 0.2 percent, and that's only going to get him about $125,000 a year. But his grown children -- Thomas, his law partner, and Barbara, an architect -- stand to make nearly $5 million a year from their 6.6 percent interests.

For more coverage, including an interactive graphic and Q&A forum, visit http://go.philly.com/slots

Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 610-313-8173 or jshields@phillynews.com.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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