Committee to begin review of south county gaming proposals

By Alyson E. Raletz

A selection committee soon will begin reviewing three south county gaming proposals with the goal of making a recommendation early next year, a St. Louis County Economic Council official recently told the Port Authority.

Mark Brady, assistant vice president of real estate and community development for the Economic Council, told Port Authority members last week that he still is weeding through the south county gaming proposals submitted Nov. 14. Responses to a similar request for proposals issued by the city were due the same day.

Three gaming companies, Pinnacle Entertainment, Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. and Harrah’s Entertainment, submitted proposals for casinos in south county. Two developers submitted companion proposals indicating they simultaneously are responding to the city’s RFP and, if selected, would build an additional casino in the city.

This would allow the city and county to explore revenue-sharing options to potentially make the proposals more attractive to the Missouri Gaming Commission.

During a Port Authority meeting Nov. 18, Brady discussed the proposals that a selection committee will begin reviewing. The committee, which will be led by Denny Coleman, president and chief financial officer of the Economic Council, plans to offer the Port Authority its recommendation by mid-January.

Pinnacle Entertainment has its eyes on the former National Lead Site in Lemay. The company submitted a companion proposal for a downtown site directly across the street from the Edward Jones Dome in Laclede’s Landing. Pinnacle has proposed a 90,000-square-foot gaming facility at the Lemay site that would be attached to a 360,000-square-foot non-gaming facility that would include a hotel, an outlet mall, a bowling alley and restaurants. Operators predict the facilities would generate about 2,000 jobs and the project would cost $300 million.

Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. proposed a site immediately south of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge south of Interstate 270/255. Isle of Capri also submitted a proposal to the city to construct a casino at Laclede’s Landing. The south county proposal envisions a 70,000-square-foot gaming facility, a 30,000-square-foot non-gaming entertainment and hotel facility. Isle of Capri estimates it would generate 1,265 jobs and the project would cost $157 million.

Harrah’s Entertainment submitted a single proposal to build a casino just south of Interstate 270/255 close to the Jefferson Barracks Bridge and near Bussen Quarry. This site is adjacent and just south of the Isle of Capri site. Like the Pinnacle submission, Harrah’s proposes 90,000 square feet of gaming space, 180,000 square feet of non-gaming space that would include a multipurpose facility along with restaurants. It would cost $275 million. The gaming company estimates the complex would generate between 1,300 to 1,350 jobs.

There’s a lot of material to wade through, but Coleman said it was rewarding to see the quality of proposals and firms that responded to the RFP. He also said he was excited that the county has the opportunity to explore a revenue-sharing plan with the city because two operators submitted companion proposals.

“The Missouri Gaming Commission at its last meeting was supposed to be a market report of what they thought the St. Louis market was doing, but it was as much a policy statement as it was a market report,” Coleman said. “They reiterated their belief that there was a strong market in south county, but they also stated very clearly that their first goal and objective was to make sure that there was a strong gaming presence investment in downtown St. Louis.

“And that secondarily if there are qualified companion proposals they would be happy to consider those … So it really speaks, I think, to the wisdom of what Buzz (Westfall) and the mayor (Francis Slay) had put forth, in which this group endorsed, in being open to that consideration because it really was clear. It was the first time I have ever seen the gaming commission actually come out and state what their locations and preferences were.”

But Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, said he adamantly opposes revenue sharing.

“I can tell you right now I am still against a revenue-sharing plan with the city,” Campisi told the Call. “I see that the President Casino in the downtown area has been struggling since it moved there and I think the same thing is going to happen if another casino goes there on that same site. The county would again be subsidizing a casino there in the city and I just don’t think that’s fair to the constituents of south county.”

However, he said he is not for or against the idea of a casino in south county. He needs more information and public input before he can make a decision, the councilman said.

“I don’t have any decision on it either way as far as what site or what proposal or what casino is best,” Campisi told the Call. “I think I need, as the public does, all the facts too before I take it to them and ultimately it will be them that makes the decision on whether or not this goes forward or not.”)