Despite Casino Industry’s Halt, A Big Project Chugs Toward Philadelphia Completion

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Casinos are shut down indefinitely across Pennsylvania, and that goes for multiple mini-casino construction projects as well, but one massive project to expand the industry continues in Philadelphia.

WPVI-TV reported last week that Stadium Casino LLC and its contractor, Gilbane Building Co., had obtained a waiver from the state to continue work on the $700 million Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia project.

Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed a shutdown of “non-essential” businesses in the state due to the COVID-19 health threat, which came as state regulators also shut down all casino operations. Only those businesses deemed “life-sustaining” are to remain open, but companies are also able to apply on a case-by-case basis for exemptions from the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

A Gilbane spokesman told WPVI that the waiver had been granted because of the casino-hotel project’s economic development importance for both Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.

Casino-hotel has been slated for opening in late 2020

The Live! casino complex, including a 200-room hotel and entertainment center, has been scheduled to open late this year in the midst of the South Philadelphia stadium-arena district.

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The developer, Stadium Casino LLC, is an affiliate of Baltimore-based The Cordish Companies, which operates a Live! casino in Maryland. The company is also developing a mini-casino at Westmoreland Mall in suburban Pittsburgh, which itself has been slated to open in late 2020.

Representatives of Stadium Casino and Cordish declined to comment last week on the status of the two projects and any extent to which they have been impacted by coronavirus concerns.

Penn National Gaming has suspended work indefinitely on its own two mini-casino projects, in York and Berks counties, citing both the present health concerns and the financial uncertainty the pandemic has created for further casino industry expansion.

The Philadelphia Live! project is one of the largest construction projects currently underway in the state, with the company touting 3,000 direct and indirect construction jobs it is providing.

It is also the biggest single addition to the state’s casino template since 2010. That year saw the opening of the present Rivers Casino Philadelphia, then known as SugarHouse. Ironically, that is also the biggest competitor for the Live! project, as they both seek to attract customers within the city limits.

Location near stadiums viewed as big draw

The Live! developers believe they have a big asset in a location within walking distance of Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center, which they expect to help attract thousands of patrons on game days. The casino site is also near Xfinity Live!, a dining-entertainment complex opened in 2012 by Cordish.

In all, the development group is touting on its website a $2 billion local economic stimulus over five years from the 1.5 million-square-foot casino complex, with a hotel standing 12 stories. Up to 2,000 direct and indirect jobs are to be created once the casino opens, according to the company.

“The opening of the casino resort destination will transform the Philadelphia Stadium District into the only place in the country to experience big league sports action, best-in-class dining and entertainment, and world-class gaming and hotel accommodations,” the website boasts.

The casino near the intersection of Interstates 76 and 95 is to have 2,200 slot machines, 150-plus table games, numerous restaurants, clubs, and a sportsbook designed to make use of the proximity to the sports venues that host all four major sports.

The big question that won’t be known until after opening is just what impact the new gambling hall will have upon an already crowded southeastern Pennsylvania market. Rivers Philadelphia presently takes in nearly $340 million in annual gaming revenue, and major competitors operate in adjacent Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery counties.

Stadium Casino has said it anticipates $300 million-plus annually in its own gaming revenue, with $130 million in state and local tax benefits derived from it.

Mini-casino’s sportsbook coming to a vote

The last word on any timetable for the two Live! projects in the state came when Cordish officials spoke to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Oct. 30, long before any awareness of the nation’s current health crisis.

“We’re very happy with the progress of the two projects and look forward to maintaining that schedule for late next year openings for both facilities,” said Cordish executive Joseph Weinberg.

At that board hearing, Cordish officials requested that the regulators waive a $10 million sportsbook licensing fee for their mini-casino project and enable the Westmoreland Mall site to use the same sports betting license as the future Philadelphia casino.

The board did not act on the request at that time but has it listed on the agenda for its public meeting this Wednesday, which is to be conducted by telephone conference call due to the coronavirus threat.

Photo by Khairil Azar Junos / Shutterstock.com

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Gary Rotstein

Gary is a longtime journalist, having spent three decades covering gambling, state government, and other issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in addition to stints as managing editor of the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette and as a reporter for United Press International and the Middletown (Conn.) Press. Contact Gary at [email protected].

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