Could ’13 be casino developer’s lucky year in Delaware? [video]

Delaware legislators have heard the same pitch year after year: hundreds of jobs would be created and millions of dollars would flow into the general fund if they would just allow a few new casinos to set up shop in the state.

A bill to develop new casinos is once again in front of the House Gaming Committee. House Bill 135 would allow for two new “destination” gaming venues to be established, one in New Castle County and one in Sussex County. The exact locations are yet to be determined.

Supporters of the bill claim the venues would create hundreds of jobs, first in construction and then in the operation of the facilities. The new development could also generate spin-off growth like new stores and restaurants nearby.

“Its more than a casino bill, it’s an economic development bill where the casino is part of a larger piece of the puzzle,” explained casino developer Jamie Rostocki during the committee hearing. “The economic recession is something that’s a once in a generation that’s effected all of us in this room. On the flip side, It’s also created this once in a generation opportunity to take advantage of a lot of pent up demand from retailers looking to expand their existing footprints into different states and in particular, Delaware.”

Gaming veterans shared their testimony on why it won’t work.

“I’ve been in the industry 35 years, 15 at Dover Downs and 20 in Atlantic City,” said Ed Sutor, president and CEO of Dover Downs. “I’m very familiar with the mid-Atlantic market and I can assure you that virtually every Wall Street analyst, everyone following the industry will tell you that the current situation is the mid-Atlantic area is not only saturated, but super-saturated.”

Sutor used Revel, one of Atlantic City’s newest casinos, as an example. The $2.4 billion casino filed bankruptcy less than a year after opening.

He also disclosed that revenues are down by 25 percent at Dover Downs and the casino has reported its second straight quarter of absolute losses for the first time in its history.

“What’s causing this? The primary is the additional competition,” Sutor said.  In the past five years, casinos have opened in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The casino has cut many of it 4,000 staffers from full-time to part-time and eliminated several employee benefits in an attempt to stay afloat.

“I seriously can’t think of a worse time to consider bringing additional competition to this state,” Sutor said.

Delaware Park President William Fasy echoed a similar argument.

Despite the direct competition opposing the development, the bill’s sponsor Rep. Dennis E. Williams said there are people in the state who want to see it happen.

“I have talked to local government at least in New Castle County and they would like to have the jobs and they’re going to try and make an effort to move this process along,” said Williams.

After hearing testimony, the gaming committee voted unanimously to table the bill and resume the conversation at a later date.

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