Roads to Pittburgh Cross Through Vegas - Monday 6th of February 2006

The competition for the lone casino license in Pittsburgh is loaded with Las Vegas implications.

Three groups are seeking approval from Pennsylvania gaming regulators to operate a 5,000-slot machine casino in the state's second-largest city. The license is not expected to be awarded until next year.

Casino giant Harrah's Entertainment, which is headquartered in Las Vegas, unveiled plans last week for a $512 million casino as part of a $1 billion retail, entertainment and residential complex that involves retail giant Forest City Enterprises.

"It's not just a slot machine parlor," Harrah's spokesman Alberto Lopez said.

"It's part of a thriving, overall massive redevelopment opportunity. Our role in this project is our expertise to manage the casino."

Meanwhile, Isle of Capri Casinos, a Biloxi, Miss.-based riverboat gaming operator, said it would build a $290 million sports arena for the National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins as part of a $1 billion casino and entertainment development.

One of Isle of Capri's partners in the proposal is Mario Lemieux, a recently retired Hall of Fame player who is the Penguins' majority owner.

The Isle of Capri proposal has gathered support from almost two dozen state and local lawmakers because without a new arena to replace the failing Mellon Center, the Penguins might have to leave Pittsburgh.

Several cities, notably Las Vegas, have been mentioned in the Pittsburgh media as the possible new home of the Penguins should the team, which is for sale, be forced to move.

"Obviously, we're competing against a city's hockey team," Lopez said. "We're offering a project that is the redevelopment of a neighborhood, which is much different in scope than a new arena with a casino."

Gaming analysts believe Harrah's and Isle of Capri are the two Pittsburgh front-runners.

One other group with Las Vegas ties also wants the casino license.

Don Barden, who owns Fitzgeralds in Las Vegas, heads the partnership and filed an application for the Pittsburgh location.

A fourth group, a Pennsylvania partnership that included several former Mandalay Resort Group executives, dropped out of the running last week.

If the Pittsburgh casino licensing process drags out for any length of time, another Las Vegas gaming company stands to benefit.

Millennium Gaming, which owns the Cannery and operates the Rampart Casino, is buying Meadows Racetrack near Pittsburgh.

Meadows is expected to receive one of the seven racino licenses for up to 5,000 slot machines, which would make the race track the only gaming opportunity in Pittsburgh until a casino is built.

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