Thursday, December 14, 2006

Allentown makes plea for Casino

In an impassioned plea for financial aid to one of the state's most cash-strapped cities, Tropicana Pennsylvania and public officials Wednesday implored state regulators to license a slot machine casino in Allentown.

Pawlowski said the struggling city desperately needs the tax revenues a casino would generate. ''Allentown needs these jobs,'' he said.

Projected to create 1,300 jobs, the $550 million casino complex would be built in phases on about 23 acres formerly owned by Agere Systems off Union Boulevard in east Allentown.

In its first phase, the casino would include a gaming floor of 100,000 square feet with 3,000 slot machines, a 250-room Marriott hotel and 11 restaurants and lounges. The first phase would not have retail space, so casino visitors would be encouraged to patronize nearby businesses.

We want to work with the downtown, not put them out of business,'' said Aztar Corp. Chief Executive Officer Robert Haddock, who testified on behalf of Tropicana.

Aztar has five casinos, including one in Las Vegas and its flagship Tropicana resort in Atlantic City, N.J. The company is being acquired by Columbia Sussez Corp., which owns several casinos and dozens of hotels.

Tropicana anticipates its first phase would open at the end of 2007, which would make it one of the first stand-alone slots parlors in the state to be up and running. The first phase, estimated to cost $325 million, would be completed in September 2008.

The second phase, expected to be finished no later than five years after the first phase, would add a day spa, 10,000 square feet of retail space, nine more restaurants and lounges and up to 2,000 more slot machines.

Tropicana's testimony lacked the glitz of some of its stand-alone competitors, including its nearest rival, Bethlehem's Sands BethWorks Gaming, whose officials gave elaborate video presentations and came armed with sketches and models of their projects.

But Tropicana's testimony included some of the most zealous pleas for a license. Proponents argued that Allentown is in more dire financial straits than its competitors, and because of its prominence in the Lehigh Valley, has a greater impact on the region's economy.

''The bottom line is Allentown needs this project,'' Pawlowski said, adding that the city lacks Bethlehem's economic revival opportunities and has a higher level of poverty.

Moreover, Allentown's financial problems affect the rest of the area, and if those problems aren't fixed, Bethlehem and other local communities will also suffer financially — even if Bethlehem is awarded a casino.

A tax-sharing plan lawmakers passed this year will ensure that both Allentown and Bethlehem reap tax benefits regardless of which city hosts a casino. But Pawlowski pointed out, ''The benefits are clearly weighted to the host city.''

The two proposals for Lehigh Valley casinos are competing against each other, two proposals in Monroe County and one outside Gettysburg. Pocono Manor wants a casino in Tobyhanna Township, Mount Airy wants one in Paradise Township, and Crossroads Gaming wants one in Straban Township, Adams County, near the Civil War battlefield.

Two stand-alone casino licenses are available for sites outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Most gaming experts believe one of the licenses will go to the Lehigh Valley, because the area is expected to generate some of the largest gaming revenues in the state. Only one of the Valley projects will get a license, because state law requires stand-alone casinos to be at least 20 miles apart.

Wednesday marked the last day of licensing hearings, one of the final steps before casino licenses are awarded Wednesday.

More here.

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