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LEHIGH VALLEY Aide says slot casino set for area



Published: Sat, January 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Legal counsel indicates that a stand-alone parlor is in the works.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A legislative aide who helped write Pennsylvania's new gambling law said there is no doubt that the Allentown-Bethlehem area will get a slot-machine casino.

"A facility in that market would be too lucrative to the commonwealth not to grant it a slots license," said Christopher Craig, legal counsel to powerful state Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia. "It would be like leaving money on the table."

It was one of the clearest indications yet as to who might get one of the 14 slots casinos authorized by the General Assembly last year. A third of the projected $3 billion in annual revenues from the machines will be used to reduce property taxes statewide.

The seven-member Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which held its first meeting last month, has final say over who gets the licenses.

The Legislature authorized licenses at seven horse racing tracks, two resorts and five stand-alone parlors, including two in Philadelphia and one in Pittsburgh. The Lehigh Valley is vying for one of the other two stand-alone parlors.

Casino operators will be required to pay host fees to the municipalities and counties where they are located. In the Lehigh Valley, the fee is expected to be $10 million a year to the host city and $5 million to the host county.

Lehigh County Executive Jane Ervin recently approached her counterpart in neighboring Northampton County Executive, Glenn Reibman, about a revenue-sharing plan.

Ervin has argued that cooperation is the best way to keep Lehigh Valley municipalities from fighting one another over a coveted slots license. But Reibman said that revenue-sharing would dilute the impact of the money among the Lehigh Valley's cities and counties.

'Winner take all'

"I feel like Northampton County has three very strong proposals, and I feel confident the license will be awarded for one of those proposals," Reibman said. "I told her we'll pursue our proposals and she can pursue theirs. Winner take all."

Last month, an Indian tribe that owns the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut -- one of the world's largest -- teamed up with a Bethlehem developer on a proposed slots casino in South Bethlehem.

Gary Armentrout, Foxwoods' chief development officer, has said that Bethlehem's proximity to large numbers of potential customers in the Lehigh Valley and New York, New Jersey and Delaware make it a good place for a casino.

The proposal is competing with one put forth by BethWorks Now and Las Vegas Sands Inc., owner of the Venetian casino in Las Vegas, to jointly build a slots parlor on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel plant in South Bethlehem. Another proposal would put the casino in Palmer Township, Northampton County.

In Lehigh County, a slots proposals has surfaced for an Agere Systems site in Allentown.




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