|By Tom Barnes, Pittsburgh
Post-GazetteMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 28, 2010--HARRISBURG -- Republican legislators often criticize the state Gaming Control Board for not being tough enough on casino bigwigs, but the board moved to dispel that idea in a big way Wednesday.
The board levied its harshest penalty yet against a casino group, imposing a fine of $116,000 -- which could rise by thousands of dollars -- on Philadelphia Entertainment and Development Partners, better known as Foxwoods Casino, for a lengthy, ongoing delay in building its proposed $500 million casino along the south Philadelphia riverfront.
The board also scheduled a March 3 hearing on whether to revoke Foxwoods' lucrative casino license because of the lack of action.
"I am concerned that we are getting jerked around -- that Foxwoods is making agreements and not living up to them," said an angry board Chairman Gregory Fajt of Mt. Lebanon. "We don't have a whole lot of faith (in Foxwoods), based on past commitments that were broken."
Board member Ken McCabe, a former FBI agent in Pittsburgh, said Foxwoods' failure to open its casino is depriving state residents of more property tax relief funds. So far, about $2 billion in tax relief has come from the nine casinos that are open, but two large Philly casinos, Foxwoods and SugarHouse, haven't opened yet. SugarHouse, while behind schedule, is under construction and should open later this year.
Foxwoods officials told the board they needed more time -- until March 1 -- to land a new investor and submit financing and design documents, data the board wanted by Dec. 1. Five months ago, the board had given Foxwoods more time to submit the required material, and already pushed back the casino's opening until May 2011.
The gaming board awarded the coveted slot machine licenses to Foxwoods and four other stand-alone casinos in December 2006, and they all were supposed to be open by now. Three, including the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, are operating, with SugarHouse to open soon.
Foxwoods hopes to have a casino open, with 1,500 slots, by the board's May 2011 deadline. However, a lawyer for Foxwoods, Stephen Cozen of Philadelphia, persuaded state officials to insert into the new table-games law a clause giving Foxwoods until Dec. 31, 2012, to be open.
Gaming board members said they are frustrated by the delays. Foxwoods spent months debating whether to change its location (from the riverfront to Center City), to get building permits from the city, to deal with citizens' opposition and to raise finances during the ongoing recession.
Yesterday, the board fined Foxwoods $2,000 per day, retroactive to Dec. 1, for not submitting required documents by that date. The fine totalled $116,000 as of yesterday and will grow by $2,000 a day until the materials are submitted.
If the board takes the much more drastic step of revoking Foxwoods' slots license, the application process for that final stand-alone license would have to start all over again and likely would take months. That would let casino magnate Donald Trump have another shot at getting a Philadelphia casino. He was among several losers for a slots license in December 2006.
Bureau Chief Tom Barnes: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-4254.
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