Philadelphia to get 2 casinos

Pa. regulators turn down proposal for slot machine parlor near Gettysburg


HARRISBURG, Pa. --A casino company executive wept tears of joy and others expressed disappointment yesterday, as the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board approved five licenses for slot machine casinos in the state.

After a year of debate and review, the seven-member board unanimously approved slot machine casino licenses for two sites in Philadelphia, one in Pittsburgh, one in Bethlehem and one in the Pocono Mountains.

Also yesterday, the gambling board granted permanent licenses for slot machines at six horseracing tracks that had been approved several weeks ago.

Like other states that have approved gaming in recent years, Pennsylvania is hoping for a tax windfall from the casinos.

Besides a fee of $50 million per license, Pennsylvania estimates that the 11 approved casinos will generate nearly $3 billion in "gross terminal revenue," which the state defines as money left after the bettors have taken their winnings but before the casinos have paid expenses.

Casinos will pay out 55 percent of that revenue in taxes, among the highest gambling tax rates in the nation. Of that 55 percent, 34 percent will go to property tax relief statewide, 12 percent to the horseracing industry, 5 percent to tourism and economic development funds, and 4 percent to local and county governments where the licenses were awarded.

Winning bidders are required to be up and running within two years after receiving final approval, which should come within the next month, said Douglas P. Harbach, a spokesman for the gambling board.

The license winners were not the only ones pleased. A group of residents and history enthusiasts who had vigorously opposed a license to open a casino near the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg were elated when they realized they had prevailed.

"People should never underestimate their power to affect the quality of life in their community," said Susan Star Paddock, chairwoman of No Casino Gettysburg, as she hugged about 20 group members who had traveled an hour to view the vote at an auditorium near the Capitol.

The Philadelphia licenses were awarded to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut, and HSP Gaming. Both groups plan to open casinos along the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

Don Barden, who owns the Majestic-Star casino chain, wept when it was announced he had been awarded a license to open a casino on the north shore of the Ohio River in Pittsburgh. "They're tears of joy," said Barden, who turned 63 yesterday and said he had never cried over a business announcement before.

One of two at-large licenses, given to operators outside major cities, was awarded to a Pennsylvania businessman, Louis A. DeNaples, who plans to turn Mount Airy Lodge, a former Pocono resort in Paradise Township, into a modern resort, including a casino with 5,000 slot machines.

The other at-large license was awarded to the operators of what is to become the Sands BethWorks casino on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Bethlehem.

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