Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pittsburgh Casino Questions Answered.

The Pittsburgh gaming license from the state of PA has officially been awarded. The Gaming Commission gave it to a Detroit-based operator called PITG Gaming. This was a surprise to virtually everybody. Many expected the scales to tip toward Forest City Enterprises, which was partnered in their bid with Harrah's Entertainment Co. Those who thought it was "in the bag'" suggested that political contributions to Mayor Ed Rendell had sealed the deal. This was not the case. Could it be that the anticipated buyout of Harrah's by two equity groups affected the decision? We'll probably never know.

Many area sports fans were pulling for Isle of Capri Casinos, headquartered in Biloxi, Mississippi. They had promised to fully finance a new hockey arena if they got the bid. The Pittsburgh Penguins currently play in Mellon Arena, which is the oldest arena where any NHL team still plays. This was seen as crucial for Pens fans, since the future of the team in Pittsburgh has been in doubt for several years. Last week Canadian Businessman Jim Balsillie pulled out of a long-planned deal to buy the Pens due to new conditions put upon the purchase deal by the management of the NHL. They made the sale contingent on Balsillie's promise to keep the franchise in Pittsburgh, regardless of whether or not a new arena was to be built. Balsillie walked away. It was rumored that he had every intention, failing the construction of an arena, of moving the team to Hamilton, Ontario.

It seems that NHL commisioner Gary Bettman has little confidence the the Penguins can be kept in Pittsburgh now that Isle of Capri has been rejected. When the Gaming Commission made its decision today, Bettman released the following statement on behalf of the NHL:

"The decision by the Gaming Commission was terrible news for the Penguins, their fans and the NHL. The future of this franchise in Pittsburgh is uncertain and the Penguins now will have to explore all other options, including possible relocation. The NHL will support the Penguins in their endeavors."

That's certainly not hopeful for those hoping to see the continuation of professional hockey in the 'burgh. Don H. Barden, of PITG Gaming, has promised to commit $7.5 million per year for 30 years toward the financing of a new arena. But apparently this isn't sufficient to keep the Penguins franchise from having to contribute some of their own money. Many Pittsburgh residents (I expect) are willing to wave goodbye.

Personally I was hoping that Isle of Capri would be the winner of the license. True... I haven't been to the arena to see a Pens game in many years. But I am a hockey fan, and love the idea that they are here if I ever do want to see them play my childhood favorites- the Philadelphia Flyers. Of course this is the exact level of commitment to the team that has failed to guarantee the Penguin's continued presence in the city. People enjoy the Penguins in a remote sense, unlike the feverish devotion dedicated to the Steelers. Even though the Pens have a squad of young superstars that could make the team a perennial winner for years to come, they still fall short of sell-out crowds.

Ultimately there is a silver lining to the decision today- the Hill District, a community decimated by city planners during the 1960's (around the time the existing arena was built), has received a reprieve from further disruption. The Hill was the proposed site for the arena/gaming complex of Isle of Capri. I bet there are a lot of pissed off land speculators in uptown right about now. PITG plans to build the casino on the North Shore, near the twin boondoggles that are the homes of the Pirates and the Steelers. That area today is largely a no man's land, with little strong sense of residential community.

As it is, I won't be much affected by the casinos. I don't gamble, nor do I have plans to change to suit the locals. This will simply be one additional reason to avoid the North Shore. No huge loss.


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