PlanPhilly

Wynn to withdraw Philadelphia casino application

Wynn Resorts says it will withdraw its application for a Philadelphia casino license, citing both the Philadelphia casino market performance over the past year and the increased competition expected with the approval of gaming in New York.

“The Wynn Resorts Board of Directors recently met to carefully examine the feasibility and opportunities associated with the company’s domestic development in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” reads a printed statement . “At this time, the Board has decided that the best course for the company is to pursue business opportunities elsewhere.

“The board took a host of factors into consideration, including the Philadelphia market performance over the past year and the competition which will result from the recent approval of gaming in the State the New York. Consequently, the company will withdraw its licensing applications in Pennsylvania.”

The former Wynn proposal was proposed for a large site on the Delaware River, at Delaware Avenue, Beach and Richmond streets.

This marks the second time that Wynn sought a stake in Philadelphia gaming, then changed his mind. It's the second time for this very license, actually.

Back in 2010, when Foxwoods still had the city's second casino license in hand, but was in danger of losing it, Wynn told city officials and the Pennsylvania State Gaming Control Board that he could save the project. Days after making a presentation to the board and showing drawings to the city, he withdrew, saying upon further consideration, it was not the right opportunity for his company. See previous coverage here. The PGCB wound up revoking Foxwood's license. The state is in the process of re-issuing it to a different operator, and until this announcement, Wynn was among six canddiates seeking it.

"Our view is that there is still a very competitive group seeking the second license," Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter, said.

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach said his office was notified of Wynn's intent today.

"Wynn presented a competitive and substantial proposal which now will not be among those for the Board's consideration," Harbach said. "The (Gaming Control) Board will move forward with it hearings and consideration of the remaining five proposals to determine the best overall proposal for the last casino in the City." 

Wynn's decision has no impact on the PGCB's timeline for awarding the license, he said. It is still expected to be awarded in the first part of next year. The PGCB has information about the Wynn and other Philadelphia proposals at its website, here.

While the Wynn statement lists two corporate contacts in Las Vegas for comment, a call to one was returned by a Wynn Philadelphia spokesperson, Sarah  Lindsay, who said no further comments would be given at this time.

Wynn's proposal was supported by the neighborhoods in which it would have been located, Fishtown and Old Richmond.

"We don’t know any of the details, but we were very surprised to see this abrupt change in course," said Fishtown Neighbors Association boardmember Matt Karp. "The community was very interested with development on this waterfront site that has been vacant for many years.  I know the community was looking forward to the potential amenities offered and the public space on the waterfront."

When asked by email what the Wynn withdrawal meant for this large parcel, Karp remained hopeful that "interest in waterfront development increasing another project or series of projects will come along and make our city and community better. "

ORCA President Phillip Stoltzfus had no comment.

 The Wynn decision leaves these five applicants:

The Provence, Tower Entertainment, LLC, 400 North Broad Street.

Market8, Market East Associates, 8th and Market streets.

Casino Revolution, PHL Local Gaming, LLC, 3333 South Front Street.

Hollywood Casino Philadelphia, PA Gaming Ventures, 700 Packer Avenue.

Live! Hotel and Casino, Stadium Casino LLC, 900 Packer Avenue.

PHL Local Gaming spokesman A. Bruce Crawley said this is good news for the Casino Revolution team.

"While we believe we thrived during the six-way competitive bid process, we are none the less pleased that Wynn's departure leaves PHL local gaming as the bidder with the largest casino footprint and the only bidder that has the capacity to expand to 5,000 slots," Crawley said.  Crawley asserted the remaining four competitiors did not physically control enough real estate to expand to 5,000 slots.

Ken Goldenberg, lead developer and investor in  Market8, called Wynn an "icon" whose invovlement to date "set the bar very high," which will benefit both the city and the state. But the withdrawal makes no real difference to him.

"As far as we’re concerned, nothing has changed," he said. "MARKET8 has always been confident that we are the best selection for this license.  We have the best site, the best operator and the best opportunity to have an immediate economic impact in the heart of Center City.  This is about an enormous opportunity to create a world-class hotel, restaurant, entertainment, and casino project that will create greater transformation and gaming revenue than any other project."

Before the PGCB makes its license decision, it will host a multi-day public suitability hearing in which the remaining applicants will appear before the board to answer questions. The hearing is slated for Jan. 28, 29 and 30th of 2014.

The gaming board last held a hearing here in September to get the city's take on which of the applicants would most benefit Philadelphia. At that hearing - see earlier coverage here - Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Alan Greenberger said the two Center City applicants - Market8 and The Provence - were most likely to stimulate new development and attract new audiences. Greenberger said he had concerns the Wynn proposal would siphon customers from SugarHouse, located less than a mile from the formerly proposed Wynn site. 

(SugarHouse doesn't have much to say about the demise of its former potential gaming neighbor on the Delaware River waterfront. “At SugarHouse, our focus continues to be providing a great player experience and preparing for expansion,” said Spokeswoman Leigh Whitaker. It should be noted that a group of SugarHouse investors has filed a lawsuit against the gaming board, saying it lacks the legal authority to award the second license. See coverage by The Daily News' Chris Brennan here.)

After the September hearing, Greenberger said that Wynn, with his extensive casino experience and brand, might be able to make a Delaware Avenue casino perform better than its city-edge location would predict.

On Monday, Greenberger was still traveling in Israel on a city trade mission. He knew of Wynn's decision, but said he could not comment on it until he learned more details.

Both city officials and other local organizations have commented that Wynn's proposal wasn't different enough from his plans for other places, including Boston. The Central Delaware Advocacy Group, which is made up of representatives of waterfront civics and other organizations and advocates for the city's long-range plan for the waterfront,  has also said the Wynn  proposal was too generic. Ditto the Design Advocacy Group, which gave its highest marks to the Market8 proposal, followed by The Provence.

CDAG Chairman Matt Ruben said his organization really liked the public spaces and public access to the river the Wynn proposal would have provided, but were displeased by the scale and design of the proposed main building and the parking garage. "There were potentially promising aspects, and some potentially problematic aspects," he said.

If Wynn stuck around and got the license, the property would have been re-zoned as the special entertainment distrit that allows casinos, which, along with port use, is exempt from the Central Delaware Zoning Overlay. This meant CDAG had no official say, but Wynn said he chose the location largely because of the waterfront, and wanted to fit in with the city's plan.

Ruben, who is also president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, said he personally found it surprising that the Wynn team would "go into this process, submit an application, authorize hundreds of millions to build the casino if they got the license, then at this stage of the game (decide) to drop out."

For those fighting the issuing of a second license here, the design, location and operator make little difference. "We don't need a second casino, and the first casino should be shut down. It's an irresponsible way to raise public revenues," said Paul Boni, a board member of Stop Predatory Gambling.

While some said Monday that Wynn's decision surprised them, Boni and Dan Hajdo of Casino-Free Philadelphia were not among the stunned.

"It never made sense to me that his model would be sustainable in such a saturated market, and it wouldn't surprise me if Market8 and The Provence start to downsize and cheapen their proposals," Boni said. " This is just evidence that (destination casinos) are not realistic (in Philadelphia)." To see what a second Philadelphia casino would be like, Boni said, look at the one already operating here.

Hajdo said he wasn't surprised because Wynn "was making little crying noises" about being unappreciated  in a story the Inquirer's Jennifer Lin wrote last month, and also because "he did it before." Hajdo's last comment refers to Wynn's decision not to get involved with the former Foxwoods proposal.

Hajdo said his organization and the coalition of groups it's part of, the No Casino in Our City Coalition, will continue to oppose the remaining proposals.


About the author

Kellie Patrick Gates, Waterfront, casinos, planning reporter

Kellie Patrick Gates writes about planning, neighborhood development and the Central Delaware Waterfront. A journalist for more than two decades, she  worked for daily newspapers in Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and South Florida before coming to Philadelphia in 2003 to write for the Inquirer. Her work has appeared on PlanPhilly since 2007, and she also writes Love, the Inquirer's weekly wedding column. A native of Elk County, Pa., Kellie lives with her husband, Gary, and their dog and two cats.

Follow her on Twitter @KelliePGates



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