March 3, 2010
By Kellie Patrick Gates
Philadelphia Entertainment and Development Partners and casino mogul Steve Wynn Wednesday persuaded the state gaming control board to leave Foxwoods Casino license intact as a going concern.
But Foxwoods will continue to pay a $2,000-per-day fine for failing to provide the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement with finished financial documents, site plans, architectural drawings and a construction timeline, all originally due Dec. 1.
The board did not think Foxwoods attorney Fred Jacoby’s reasons for the delay – the bad economy, the recent nature of the legislative move to allow table games, and the need for Wynn to have a say in the design – justified the failure to deliver the documents.
The casino presented a check for $186,000 Wednesday, the amount of the fine to date. It will have to keep paying, but what kept Foxwoods from facing additional sanctions is that “they did give the board a glimmer of hope that they may be able to satisfy those conditions in the very near future,” board Chairman Gregory Fajt said after the meeting.
Jacoby asked the board in January to be just a little more patient. He told it that Foxwoods’ new investor – the then unnamed Wynn – had lots of money and lots of vision for the project.
Foxwoods recently provided the BIE with a tentative financial agreement it has with Wynn. Under the tentative agreement, Wynn would have 51 percent control. The Foxwoods tribe would retain about 15 percent and the charitable trusts of the Rubin, Katz and Snider families would receive 21 percent of the revenue. The remainder would go to smaller stakeholders.
The board ordered Foxwoods to turn in a definitive financial agreement by March 31. Fajt said after the meeting ended that if those documents are not provided by then, the board’s April 7 meeting “will be an ugly one.”
On April 7, the board could lift the sanctions, impose more or even start proceedings to revoke Foxwoods’ license at that meeting. The same possibilities hold for the next new deadline: Foxwoods has until April 26 to provide the site plan, drawings and timeline. The board will discuss their progress at an April 29 public hearing.
While the hearing’s purpose was limited to determining whether or not Foxwoods had come into compliance with the board’s orders to provide financial information, site plans and the like, it soon became clear that Foxwood’s future is dependent on it receiving a set of board approvals for petitions it has not yet filed. Jacoby said Foxwoods would soon ask the board to transfer control to Wynn, approve design changes he wants to make, allow Foxwoods to operate table games, and give the casino until December 2012 to make slots available for play.
Fajt said it seemed clear that Foxwoods won’t be able to deliver without Wynn. Wynn’s commitment to Foxwoods is contingent on several things that have yet to occur: issuance of a building permit by the city, a time extension to get the facility open from the gaming board, and the board’s approval of Wynn as the majority investor. Chief Enforcement Council Cyrus Pitre told the board they were at a crossroads. “It’s pretty obvious that Foxwoods would not have the ability to build the casino we licensed them to build” without Wynn, he said. If the board were to pull Foxwoods’ license and reopen the licensing process to other potential operators, Pitre said, it would take at least four years to get a casino running. He told the board he believed a casino would be open by December 2012 if it granted a change of control to Wynn.
When the board went to break, Pitre said that had the board asked him for his recommendation, he would have suggested they move Foxwoods forward with Wynn. Fajt said after the hearing ended that the Foxwoods saga was all going to be a step-by-step process, and nothing is yet assured. If Foxwoods doesn’t meet its two new deadlines, the process will stop before the board ever considers approving Wynn or giving Foxwoods more time to open, Fajt said.
If Foxwoods were to lose its license, Wynn said he would try to win it for himself. He was not at all interested in adding a Pennsylvania casino to his empire until the state started talking about table games. While no drawings were shown Wednesday, Wynn did draw a verbal picture of his plans for the board – plans that could vary substantially from what was originally approved by the PGCB. He told the board he had only seen an early sketch of Foxwoods old plans. Wynn said he planned to address city and neighborhood traffic concerns by creating a four-lane access roadway on the Foxwoods property. This would require city approval allowing a left hand turn from Columbus Boulevard onto Tasker Ave. Wynn would borrow from his casino in Macau, China, a white marble facade, brass accents and chocolate brown canopies. Wynn would like to open with 3,000 slots, five to six dozen table games and poker facilities.
The gaming floor would be located about 12 feet higher than grade, he said. On its second floor, the property would have a sports bar and other restaurants. There would be no surface parking – both guests and employees would park in a garage, he said.
If all needed approvals are granted, Wynn said, Foxwoods would be open in about 20 months, with construction beginning in six months. He said the casino would employ the equivalent of 2,000 full time employees, but some workers would be part-time.
Wynn said the waterfront as it is is ugly, and he would want to improve his portion of it. He also said there would be landscaping between the casino and Columbus Boulevard. He told reporters while the board was pondering its decision that he was not familiar with the city’s civic vision for the waterfront, which calls for broad public access, extending the street grid to the river, and mixed-use development that is in places very dense.
The Las Vegas billionaire arrived at the gaming board hearing with girlfriend Andrea Hissom on his arm. Wynn was greeted by about 150 union members who lined his path to the hearing room. They carried signs that said “Win with Wynn” and sported cut-out masks of his face. It felt a bit like he was arriving for the gaming Oscars. Wynn told the board about it, saying he’d never had a greeting like that before, and it was fun.
Tim Sheipe, a 51-year-old, unemployed communications technician with Local 98, said Wynn’s potential of leading Foxwoods meant potential work for him. ”I’ve been out of work for eight months,” said Sheipe, who lives in Bensalem.
Noticably absent from the indoor courtyard of the Keystone Building were anti-casino activists. But they streamed into the hearing room just as the Foxwoods hearing was getting started, and interrupted the proceeding several times. They had their own signs, calling Wynn a loser. They told him he was not welcome in Philadelphia. And as he started to speak, they repeatedly interrupted him.
Board Chairman Fajt warned the protesters he would not tolerate the outbursts, but Queen Village resident Andrea Preis would not be silenced. “We do not want your casino in our city,” she told Wynn. “We do not want your free coupons, your free booze. We don’t want the techniques you use to pull poor people into your casino.”
As she was taken from the room, Wynn quipped: “Usually it takes people a few days after they’ve met me to not like me.”
When one of the protestors called out “We don’t want you here!” one of the casino advocates yelled, “well, we do!”
Fajt called a brief recess to restore order, but protests continued afterward and in all, nearly a dozen protestors were removed. Fajt said they would be arrested, but attorney Paul Boni, who represents Casino-Free Philadelphia, said that didn’t happen. “They are around the corner at the diner right now, eating french fries,” he said of some of the escorted activists.
Some of the activists are part of Asian Americans United, or otherwise affiliated with Philadelphia’s Asian communities. They say that Asians are particularly susceptible to gambling addiction, and one woman begged Wynn not to open a business that would harm families.
Fajt told the public they would have plenty of opportunity to comment to the board at upcoming public hearings. Under current gaming law, public hearings are required if a casino asks the board to approve changes in ownership or physical plan, or if a casino seeks approval for table games. The hearings must be held in the municipality where the casino is located – in this case, Philadelphia.
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