Casino regulators to vote on second Philly license

Gambling regulators are nearing a decision on Philadelphia’s second and final casino license, with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board scheduling a Nov. 18 vote that will likely come under scrutiny no matter which of the applicants — if any — win a high-stakes competition involving hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from table games and slot machines.

The board’s announcement Friday came as Philadelphia’s existing casino renewed its effort to scuttle plans for a second casino in the city, arguing that regulators are operating on “stale information” about the strength of the region’s gambling market.

SugarHouse said in a filing late Thursday that a decline in slots revenue in Pennsylvania as well as the industry’s “implosion” in nearby Atlantic City — where four casinos have closed this year — are clear signs of market saturation.

“If this second license is issued, it’s bad for everybody. It’s bad for us, it’s bad for our vendors, it’s bad for our employees and it’s bad for most of our competitors,” Wendy Hamilton, general manager of SugarHouse, said in an interview Friday.

“We are operating in a difficult environment,” she said. “The thought of adding another mouth at the table is very, very scary.”

Several companies have applied for a license to operate a casino in Philadelphia. The board held hearings in January and closed the record soon after. SugarHouse wants the board to take additional testimony and evidence before making its decision on whether to award the license.

Board spokesman Doug Harbach declined comment on the SugarHouse petition. The board has previously said it would consider the market impact of a second casino.

Pennsylvania’s southeastern corner already has four casinos, including SugarHouse, while competition from border states is intensifying. In June, Penn National Gaming Inc. abandoned its bid to build a $480 million casino in south Philadelphia, citing in part the region’s crowded gambling market.

Two of the remaining applicants for a second Philadelphia license want to build downtown, while two others propose building near the sports complex in south Philadelphia. All of them say there’s room for another casino in Philadelphia.

Hamilton declined comment on whether SugarHouse would sue to block a second casino, should regulators decide to award the license. Minority investors in SugarHouse have already mounted a legal challenge, though they’ve been unsuccessful.

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