The recipient of Philadelphia’s second casino license has yet to be determined, but one proposal has distinguished itself as the early front-runner.
Ken Goldenberg’s Market8 hotel and casino has received bipartisan support from Pennsylvania state representatives Michael O’Brien and John Taylor. Both representatives see Market8 as the best balance of economic opportunity and investment in the surrounding community.
Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla represents the district where Market8 is proposed. Squilla has also publicly backed Market8, viewing the casino and hotel as an opportunity to turn around an area of the city that has been struggling for decades.
“Market8 would be only two blocks away from the convention center,” Squilla said. “We believe that instead of cannibalizing profits from (Sugarhouse), people who would come into the city but not necessarily go down to (Sugarhouse) would come and spend money in this casino, and hopefully increase our tax revenue.”
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Market8’s economic upside is not the only reason Squilla has backed the project. In response to concerns that a casino in the area would drain funds from the already impoverished local population, the Market8 team has proposed a reward system that would allow patrons to earn discounts and other benefits from businesses already established in the area. Rather than rewarding frequent visitors with free hotel stays as traditional casinos do, Market8 would give discounts at area restaurants and shops.
“The first thing I asked was, ‘How’s it going to effect the surrounding retailers and restaurateurs?’” Squilla said. “It was the Goldenberg Group’s idea to comp the surrounding community, more so than comp the actual casino. That excited me, because they understand that we need to grow the Market East community.”
Though the Market8 project has made a strong case, concerns remain about a casino’s potential impact on downtown Philadelphia. A Harrah’s casino located in downtown New Orleans opened in 1999 and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy two years later. The casino’s initial revenue was lower than projected and came primarily from local residents, two common concerns among those opposed to the Market8 proposal.