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Foxwoods investors under pressure to ante up on plan for Philadelphia casino

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published November 19. 2010 4:00AM
Group given three weeks to show it can finance project

Pennsylvania gaming regulators have granted another reprieve for the beleaguered Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia project.

At least that's what it's been called up until now.

Drawings submitted Thursday, however, depict a casino bearing Harrah's Entertainment's Horseshoe brand name and no mention of Foxwoods, according to Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

The board, which met in Harrisburg, gave the Foxwoods investors - a group known as Philadelphia Entertainment and Development Partners, which includes the Mashantucket Pequots' Foxwoods Development Co. - three more weeks to demonstrate they have financing and other elements in place and are ready to proceed.

"The line in the sand is now Dec. 10," Harbach said. "The bottom line is that they have to have all pertinent documents in the hands of our enforcement division by then." Otherwise, he said, the board could vote to revoke the project's gaming license when it meets Dec. 16.

Harbach said the required documents would have to provide details of PEDP's partnership with Harrah's, the world's largest casino operator, which was identified last month as a potential investor in the project and manager of the casino.

"They'll have to say how the company will operate and where the money will come from," Harbach said.

Harrah's Entertainment, whose properties primarily operate under the Harrah's, Caesars and Horseshoe brand names, owns a casino in Chester, Pa., about 20 miles south of Philadelphia. Under state regulations, that circumstance would require the gaming board to limit Harrah's stake in a Philadelphia casino.

Harbach said it appeared that the Mashantuckets would eventually be bought out as investors. Attempts to reach tribal officials in southeastern Connecticut and with the Foxwoods Development Co., which is headquartered in St. Louis, were unsuccessful Thursday evening.

The Foxwoods project has long been opposed by neighborhood groups that object to its proposed waterfront location on Columbus Boulevard in South Philadelphia. In September, the SugarHouse casino opened elsewhere in the city.

In a letter to the gaming board that was posted on the Internet, Frank DiCicco, a Philadelphia councilman, urged revocation of the Foxwoods license.

"As I have often said - and indeed, as most of Philadelphia has said - a better location and a better development could likely be completed quickly and comfortably," the letter read. "Foxwoods is not that development."

Earlier this year, casino mogul Steven Wynn appeared to rescue the project when he signed on as a majority partner and general manager. But he withdrew from the deal in April, forcing the investors to scramble for new backing. At that point, the gaming board's Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement called for the revocation of the project's gaming license.

In September 2009, the gaming board granted a two-year extension of Foxwoods' original license and imposed a series of deadlines for the submission of plans and financial information. In January, it imposed a $2,000-a-day fine retroactive to Dec. 1, 2009, for PEDP's failure to meet one of those deadlines.

As of Oct. 27, the investors had accumulated - and paid - $662,000 in fines, according to Harbach. The fines have continued to accrue since then.

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