The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has begun paging through the six applications it received for the city's second casino license before the deadline last week. It will likely take at least a year before the board makes a decision, according to R. Douglas Sherman, its chief counsel. In the meantime, the board and its staff will sort through the applications, conduct background investigations, hold public hearings and collect written feedback.
"It's not going to be a short process and it's going to take as long as it takes," Sherman said. "We're going to deal with each project separately."
The 2004 state gaming law calls for two casinos in Philadelphia. In 2006, five groups competed for the two licenses; those applications led to a groundswell of public opposition that helped delay the opening of one project, Sugarhouse Casino, and contributed to the collapse of a second proposal by a Foxwoods-led group.
Sugarhouse opened in 2010. In addition to community opposition, Foxwoods ran into financing problems and had its license revoked later that year. That license is now being rebid, setting up the latest competition.
This time around, the six proposals include bids by casino magnate Steve Wynn, local real estate developer Bart Blatstein, three separate plans that would put slots and table games in south Philadelphia and a proposal that would put a casino in an existing parking lot near the city's historic district. The board expects to post public versions of the proposals on its website soon.
For each application, the board's Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement will conduct extensive background investigations, assess the project's financing, the effects of its location, its design and other factors, Sherman said.
Meanwhile, the board will conduct three sets of hearings.
First will be information hearings in Philadelphia, likely by February, where each applicant will get to make an initial presentation. Public comment will not be permitted.
A few months later, the board will travel to Philadelphia for hearings where the applicants will make brief presentations and hear from the public, Sherman said. Those hearings are expected to last several days.
After those hearings, the board will accept written public comment for a period of time before moving on to its own set of hearings, likely not until next fall, that will be the board's chance to ask questions of the applicants. There will be no public comment.
Then the board begins deliberations on which applicant to pick, a process that could take days, weeks or months, Sherman said. A winning applicant needs more than a simple majority; it must have the support of all four legislative appointees on the board and at least one of the three gubernatorial appointees.
At this point, it's not clear what levels of support and opposition the respective projects will receive.
Kevin Greenberg, an attorney working with a coalition of neighborhood groups near Blatstein's proposed casino site, said they are focused on trying to learn everything they can about the project and staying involved throughout the process.
"We're not opposing it," he said. "Right now, we're trying to learn."
Another group that was active last time around, Casino-Free Philadelphia, is still assessing its strategy, spokesman Dan Hajdo said. He said the group will protest any plans for a casino in the city.
"This is not about what the best proposal is," he said. "This is about political power and connections."