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Details of new South Philly casino revealed, including planned ‘Asian Pit’

The Live! Hotel and Casino planned for Packer Avenue includes 2,150 slot machines and 100 electronic table games, along with 12 high-limit tables, and 80 high-limit slots. There is also a planned “Asian Pit,” an area that gets its name from its designation for games frequented by persons from Asian countries or backgrounds.

The “Pit” is housed within a 600,000-plus square foot hotel and gaming complex — previous reports have the scale at 200,000 square feet for the casino and the same for the hotel, 400,000 —  with an additional one million-plus square feet of parking space in a seven-tiered garage. On top of the garage will be a rooftop green space with 35,000 square feet for 400 occupants, 75 percent of which will be covered with at least 12 inches of soil (and presumably planted with grass).

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board awarded Philadelphia’s second license to Live! Hotel and Casino in November of last year. Details have been scarce on the Cordish Companies/Greenwood Racing and Entertainment joint venture coming to South Philly sometime in 2018-2019. Reporters have seen a handful of conceptual renderings and images of Cordish’s Maryland Live! Casino for an idea of what to expect. But Billy Penn can reveal the above details thanks to full architectural schematics, uploaded to an unsecured FTP server available via Google, which detail the proposed almost two million gross square foot construction endeavor, complete with external renderings and the particulars of “vertical transportation” (that’s elevators, folks!).

Billy Penn reached out to Cordish and the contractor that uploaded the documents in question. A Cordish spokesperson declined to comment about the characterization in the plans, and the contractor declined to comment. And while it’s unlikely that the “Asian Pit” will be labeled as such when the complex opens, Cordish also operates the Maryland Live! casino in Hanover. That casino, as the Washington Post reports, works hard to woo Asians. It’s an important segment to the casino industry as a whole. This New York Times story from 2011 estimates that casinos earn 25 percent of their revenue from Asian gamblers.

And Philadelphia is no stranger to this community’s struggle with gambling addiction. A mural being unveiled today in South Philly at Seventh and Wolf streets (an easy walk from the future Live! site), called “Fabled Fortune,” highlights the unique obstacle of the Asian-American community in recovering from gambling addiction. “Gambling is a problem across cultures, but some research shows that casinos target Asian-Americans,” Dr. Catherine Williams, program and operations director at the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, told the Philadelphia Daily News two weeks ago.

But the plan itself has drawn strong complaints from South Philly residents of the area, as well as Kenyatta Johnson, Councilman for the 2nd District. Located just up the river in Fishtown, SugarHouse had fought hard against the granting of a second Philly license altogether, saying the slot machine take at the Delaware Avenue casino was already down and that a second gaming operation would water-down the area gaming market. Once Live! won the license, SugarHouse, joined by Piazza developer Bart Blatstein, who competed for the same license to build a casino on North Broad Street, unsuccessfully sued to stop the license award.

The project is planned for a 9-acre parcel at Darien Street and Packer Avenue in South Philly – right now there is still a 12-story Holiday Inn and surface parking lot at the site that are both scheduled for demolition.

In their place, according to the plans, there’s to be an 18-floor, 300,000 square foot hotel; an 8-story, 325,000 square foot casino and “parking garage pedestal” (attached building and elevator housing), and seven tiers of structured parking built over the casino floor with about 1.3 million square feet of surface area (total garage parking provided: 3,551 spaces).

On the second floor of the hotel will be a spa, and on the Penthouse level, along with suites, there will be “private gaming areas.”

Expect plenty of restrooms due to Philly’s union driven plumbing-fixture count requirement. The parking garage rooftop greenspace, which “will be an intensive system with a minimum of 12 inches of soil” will require “an additional six total water closets, plus 2 urinals, and four total lavatories.”

The attached Economic Opportunity Plan provided to the City of Philadelphia anticipates that the casino will generate approximately 3,000 construction jobs and around 1,200 permanent positions — though the goal given for employing local residents in construction is 32 percent of the total jobs.

The EOP was signed June 4 by Joe Weinberg, Cordish’s Gaming and Resorts Division president, who told PlanPhilly the Live! Casino’s proximity to the Sports Complex will actually improve traffic during events. The theory: The casinos will cause the stadium crowd to hang out and gamble before getting on the road, thus staggering departures and easing congestion.

Even ignoring the possible enormous negative social impact of expanded gambling, it is seriously questionable that another casino will have any positive economic contribution to the city, and in fact may do more harm than good to the industry.

Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Andrew Zarnett titled the research note he delivered to investors immediately after the license award “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Five of Us.”

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “Zarnett told investors Philadelphia would welcome another cheesesteak shop,” but not another casino. The analyst and those in his group believe another casino can only hurt the existing, already over-saturated gambling market — which includes a casino operated by Live! co-developer Greenwood Gaming, Parx in Bensalem. “In our view,” Zarnett said, “the addition of the Live! casino will have more of a deleterious impact on the market.”

Kenneth Lipp is a Philadelphia journalist from Birmingham, Ala. He co-edits The Declaration and writes politics for the Spirit News.

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