Insanity in Illinois, Philadelphia

By David McKee ~ June 1st, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over (and over) and expecting a different result, then we have outbreaks of it in both the Illinois Legislature and the Philadelphia casino market. In Pennsylvania, lawmakers have the disposition of the vacated Foxwoods project on their desks but its upper house won’t take action for months, probably not until after the election. State Senate Dominic Pileggi (R) and the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission are playing political football with the license, each trying to fob the problem off on the other. The commission would dearly like to move it elsewhere and Pileggi is just as clearly trying to keep it where it is.

That’s music to the ears of R. Donahue “Don” Peebles, the mogul behind the Las Palmas “failsino”/condo tower that’s never going to get built on Paradise Road, the site having been quietly sold last winter for an undisclosed amount, after five years in stasis. Peebles had bought the 13-acre property for $65 million. (Scroll to the bottom of the 2007 article for some hilariously off-target predictions re the Las Vegas economy.) He’s still going to do something, he says, with the dinky (50 slots) Mardi Gras Hotel & Casino (above) near the convention center, if perhaps not the $2 billion megaresort he was touting as recently as two years ago.

Flying in the face of all numerical evidence, Peebles insists there’s room in the Philly area for a fifth casino — and never you mind that brand-new Valley Forge Resort Casino just took a piece out of seemingly impregnable Parx Casino‘s hide, or that SugarHouse has been merrily cannibalizing Harrah’s Chester Downs Philadelphia. And to do it, he says he’s going to raise a private-equity fund. Aaaauuuggghhh! Haven’t they done enough damage to the casino industry, Don?

It’s not just Peebles. Local duo Bart Blatstein and Robert Zuritsky are also beavering away on a $500 casino that would arise on commercial space currently occupied by Philadelphia’s newspapers, a few blocks northeast of Logan Square and just off the highway. Peebles is talking about something on the order of The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, which would certainly put the cost of Blatstein and Zuritsky’s project in the shade. Mind you, Peebles (right) landed a New York State nod to redevelop Aqueduct Racetrack as a racino but couldn’t raise even the $370 million that project required, making him one of the many casualties of a scandal-plagued selection process. (Although Penn National Gaming had the requisite up-front money, it was repeatedly dissed for no good reason.)

In the Land of Lincoln, lawmakers made good — just barely — on their promise to pass gambling-expansion legislation before the end of May, having tossed in some relatively minor concessions to Gov. Pat Quinn (D). Primary sponsor state Rep. Lou Lang (D) is doing the bidding of his masters in the horsey set, and racinos have been a non-negotiable sticking point both for Quinn and Illinois Casino Gaming Association prexy Tom Swoik. The stance of Lang’s state Senate ally, Terry Link (D) is that Illinois gambling revenues must increase and to Hell with how it’s accomplished or who gets sideswiped in the process.


Link and Lang’s Christmas tree of “shiny objects” (as Quinn characterized the bill’s innumerable goodies) passed the House … but by less than a vet0-proof majority. L&L promptly gloated, touting their discredited revenue-growth projection of $300 million-$1 billion — even though it probably isn’t the wisest strategy to bait Quinn and back him into a corner. Indeed, he wasted little time firing back, in the face of continued taunting from Link.

The senator’s boastfulness blew up in his face when the upper house passed the bill — but with far too few votes to override a veto. (This news organ needs to work on its math skills.) The bill doesn’t have to go to Quinn’s desk right away, which is too bad because the governor is now in an excellent position to humiliate both Link and the incessantly trash-talking Lang (right), both of whom led with their chins and deserve to get clocked.

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