Casinos ask for relief from $50-million fee

July 27

By Kellie Patrick
For PlanPhilly

Philadelphia’s two proposed casinos received an extension on big bills that were due to the state Friday – $50 million licensing fees.

Developers for both SugarHouse and Foxwoods had filed documents with the state Gaming Control Board earlier this week asking for the extension, saying they shouldn’t have to pay until the city makes the zoning changes and issues the permits the casinos need. Foxwoods filed July 20, and SugarHouse filed Tuesday (see attached PDFs below).

 “Development of Foxwoods’ slot machine facility continues to be delayed because of a series of unique and extraordinary circumstances surrounding the protracted and highly politicized process of obtaining the local zoning permits required for construction to begin,” Foxwoods’ petition states.

“Until we receive final zoning and building permits, the license is unusable,” said Foxwoods spokeswoman Maureen Garrity.

SugarHouse’s petition sites the same circumstances.

“We think it’s only fair that we know we actually can build and operate the casino before we pay for the privilege of doing so,” said SugarHouse spokesman Dan Fee.

Friday, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board granted a stay and set a Sept. 6 hearing, so no money is due at least until the casinos make their case, representatives from Foxwoods and SugarHouse said.

“We got good news yesterday,” Foxwoods spokeswoman Maureen Garrity said. 

SugarHouse spokesman Dan Fee said the Control Board was considering the extension applications jointly.  Briefs are due Aug. 27.

Organizers at CasinoFree Philadelphia – an organization which opposes the casinos – released a statement earlier in the week. To them, the extraordinary circumstances  Foxwoods refers to are public officials listening to the public.

“Elected officials are finally responding to the public’s will and are beginning to make life very difficult for SugarHouse and Foxwoods,” said Casino-Free co-founder Jethro Heiko. “The casinos are now asking the Gaming Control Board for relief from the statutory requirement of paying the fee on time. Obviously they’re worried that it’s not a done deal.”

Both Fee and Garrity said the casino developers fully expect to get what they need to open – eventually. Garrity pointed out that the casino developers have won all legal challenges to date.

Those who oppose casinos have only “slowed us down temporarily,” she said, while “blocking millions of dollars of tax relief, thousands of job, and millions of dollars of economic development.”

CasinoFree spokesman Karim Olaechea said he thinks the casinos must be more concerned than they are willing to reveal. “These fees are refundable. I don’t see why the casinos are all that concerned about paying forward $50 million, unless there is pressure from investors who lack confidence in their ability to break ground.”

The current zoning and building processes were not anticipated when the licensing fee due date was set, because the original legislation did not allow any local zoning control.

 “Everyone had anticipated that when the courts went through the final appeals, that would be the last step in the process,” Fee said.

The Control Board set the due date for Friday to allow time for the court appeals to be exhausted, Garrity said.

Foxwoods has also filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court asking them to change the zoning on their parcel, thus overriding the city’s process.

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