Philadelphia Park Draws Criticism for Unfinished Casino Plans

Philadelphia Park Casino executives drew a rebuke from state regulators Aug. 7 over their unfinished plans to reshape the design of a permanent gambling hall they want to build next to the Thoroughbred racetrack.

In addition, executives of the planned Sands Bethworks Casino told the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board that the unexpected discovery of cement foundations deep in the ground will delay the opening of the Bethlehem casino into 2009.

The exchanges came during the gaming board's three-hour meeting, when six casino groups, including three that are currently operating temporary slots parlors, delivered updates to the board on the state of the permanent casinos they are building.

Speed is a primary focus of the gaming board, which has approved 11 slots casinos in Pennsylvania, because a portion of the gambling revenue is to be parlayed into tax cuts for homeowners in much of the state and people who pay Philadelphia's wage tax.

Philadelphia Park Casino's chairman Bob Green received a chilly reception after he told gaming board members they would have to wait two more months to view the revised plans for the casino's permanent building.

They told Green to deliver the plans sooner, as Philadelphia Park has a Dec. 18 deadline to get the new design approved or secure an extension of its 12-month temporary slots license. Without that, they lose the ability to operate the casino.

"It behooves you to get your plans in ... to give us plenty of time," gaming board chairman Tad Decker told Green.

When it approved Philadelphia Park's slots application last year, the gaming board attached conditions to the temporary slots license. To make its slots license permanent, Philadelphia Park must meet those conditions, which included building a permanent facility by the end of 2008, plans for which it presented to the gaming board.

However, Philadelphia Park would violate one of those conditions if it does not get board approval to change its plans. In addition, the longer Philadelphia Park goes without a permanent facility, the bigger a problem it could become.

In December, Philadelphia Park began operating slot machines under a temporary arrangement. It installed the machines on the first and second floors of the racetrack grandstands and moved the racetrack betting concourse to an inconvenient space on the fifth floor.

The move has drawn bitter complaints from an association of horse owners and trainers at the 32-year-old track, who say Philadelphia Park is reneging on a key condition of its temporary license and driving away racing customers.

Board member Gary Sojka criticized the conditions at the racetrack, singling out the cramped racetrack betting area and the backside, where the horses are stabled and where the grooms live.

Green insisted that the racetrack is committed to improving the backside, and said purses at the track will more than double this year to $63 million, thanks to an injection of slots revenue designed to aid Pennsylvania's equine industry.

Executives for four other slots parlors -- Mount Airy Resort & Casino, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Hollywood Casino at Penn National and Meadows Casino and Racetrack -- said they will open permanent casinos as planned.

Sands Bethworks Casino president Robert DeSalvio said removing the cement foundations from the rusting flagship factory of the now-defunct Bethlehem Steel Corp. will prevent the casino from opening in late 2008, as had been hoped. The new work will mean an opening in the second quarter of 2009, DeSalvio said.

In addition to those facilities, ground has not been broken on two planned casinos in Philadelphia and another in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack opened its permanent slots facility in January and Presque Isle Downs opened its permanent facility in February.--Blood-Horse staff

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