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Mashantuckets win Philadelphia slots

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has trumped Donald Trump and two other developers in a bid to build a casino in Philadelphia.

The Pennsylvania Gambling Control Board announced Dec. 20 that the Mashantucket Pequots' Foxwoods Resort Casino and its partners won approval to build a slots parlor, restaurants and shops on a waterfront property in south Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia project will be the nation's first venture off its reservation in Connecticut, but not its last. A day earlier, the nation and MGM Mirage, one of the country's largest and best-known casino companies, finalized a partnership whose first project - a $700 million expansion at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut - is already under way.

The project will begin with a $300 million casino with 3,000 slot machines, entertainment venues and restaurants on a 16.5-acre site on South Columbus Boulevard in Philadelphia. The facility could expand in the future. The off-reservation project will be subject to all local and federal regulations and taxes.

The casino is scheduled to open in late 2008 or early 2009.

The PGCB awarded a total of 11 permanent slot licenses, each allowing for up to 5,000 machines, from among 13 groups of well-known casino developers, investors and celebrities. A 2004 law authorized up to 61,000 slot machines at 14 sites in the state.

The Mashantucket Pequots' partners in the project include musician Quincy Jones, former Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Garry Maddox, and Dawn Staley, coach of the women's basketball team at Temple University.

The tribe will build and operate the casino and own 30 percent of it. Two Philadelphia nonprofit organizations and a philanthropist will also own a large piece of the project and use their profits for nonprofit charitable purposes.

The tribe was ''honored'' to be selected for the project, said Pedro Johnson, a tribal member and chairman of the Foxwoods Development Company board of directors.

''The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and our local partners bring a track record of proven success to this project. We will put that record to work on behalf of the city of Philadelphia and its people in many ways. We operate a world-class gaming resort in Connecticut, and Foxwoods Philadelphia will follow in that tradition; and the philanthropic component of this project is without equal. We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the city and its people,'' Johnson said.

The nation and four other developers will build standalone slot facilities. The other six licenses were granted for the state's horse racetracks, which received conditional licenses earlier in the year. The Mohegan Indian Tribe - the Mashantuckets' Connecticut neighbor and competitor - was one of the groups granted a conditional license earlier for its Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

Among the losing bids were Trumps' proposal for a casino in northwestern Philadelphia and a controversial proposal for a casino near the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg.

Pennsylvania is projecting a $3 billion revenue windfall from its massive expansion into slot machine gaming, which would make it the highest-grossing commercial gaming state in the country.

The Pennsylvania license is one part of the Mashantuckets' efforts to diversify and expand. Its partnership with MGM is another part that will take the tribe even further afield.

Under the partnership agreement signed Dec. 19, the tribe and MGM will develop additional gaming and nongaming businesses on the Mashantucket Pequot reservation in southeastern Connecticut, across the nation, in the U.S. Virgin Islands and abroad.

The $700 million hotel/casino resort already under construction at Foxwoods on the tribe's reservation will provide additional casino space, fine dining, a nightclub, a hotel tower, a 4,000-seat theater, a spa and recreational facilities, and retail amenities. It is scheduled to open in the spring of 2008.

The partnership provides Mashantucket with access to MGM's famous brand name, its experience in casino development, and financing. In return, MGM gets licensing and consulting fees and an entrance into New England's booming gaming market in southeastern Connecticut, which is poised about halfway between New York and Boston.

The partners unveiled their proposed joint venture last April. The agreement was finalized after the National Indian Gaming Commission determined its approval was not needed.

The commission, which regulates gaming in Indian country, reviewed the agreement to see whether MGM would have control of the new project, but determined that the agreement was not a management contract, and that the tribe would own and operate the new facility.

The tribe declined a request last April from Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to review the draft contract, but agreed to send him the finalized documents, and made good on that promise soon after the agreement was signed.

In a prepared statement, Blumenthal said his review of the contract was under way.

''Despite approval by the National Indian Gaming Commission, the contracts between the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and MGM must be reviewed and scrutinized by state authorities.

''I will work with the Department of Special Revenue on critical issues such as whether there is a management agreement under state law that would require additional state oversight and regulation. Although the NIGC has concluded that the contracts are not management agreements - and therefore require no federal review - we must address the same issues, and possibly others, under our state laws,'' Blumenthal said.