Online Gambling Bill Clears Way For Philly Casino

In addition to legalizing online poker, the massive Pennsylvania gambling expansion package that was signed into law by the governor last week will remove the final hurdles to a long-planned second casino for the city of Philadelphia.

For the past three years, the $600 million Live! Hotel & Casino project in South Philadelphia has been stuck in limbo thanks to legal challenges to its state approval. Pennsylvania law stated that the alleged ownership structure for the casino wouldn’t stand.

Competitors said that Watche “Bob” Manoukian, who owns roughly 85 percent of nearby Parx Casino, would be owning more than a third of Live!, a joint venture between his company Greenwood Racing and the Cordish family in Baltimore. The Cordish Companies own the five-year-old Maryland Live! Casino, hence the similar branding.

Despite the concerns, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in August unanimously approved the project for a second time. In June, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court told regulators to again examine the ownership structure of the project. The allegation was that Manoukian tried to hide his real ownership stake in the project, but regulators were unconvinced.

SugarHouse Casino, which is currently the only casino within city limits, was one of the groups behind the legal challenge to the Live! project. It has dropped its lawsuit.

It looked like the casino would eventually sort through its legal issues, but the Pennsylvania legislation, HB 271, expedites the process for the dormant project.

The measure repeals the following rule: “No slot machine licensee, its affiliate, intermediary, subsidiary or holding company may possess an ownership or financial interest that is greater than 33.3% of another slot machine licensee or person eligible to apply for a category 1 license, its affiliate, intermediary, subsidiary or holding company.”

Construction for the casino is expected to begin next year. It could be open in 2020.

There were rumors as early as July that the provision to repeal the rule could be added to the omnibus gambling expansion measure.

Live! will be Pennsylvania’s 13th brick-and-mortar casino and the fifth in relative close proximity to Philadelphia. The casino is expected to generate about $300 million annually in gaming revenue thanks to 2,000 slot machines and more than 100 table games.

The state’s casinos won an all-time high $3.2 billion from gamblers last year, but that was only 1.7 percent more than what was won in 2012. Online gambling could generate another $300 million in additional revenue for the casinos.

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