No dice for Harrah’s; Pinnacle, Isle still betting on south county

By Alyson E. Raletz

Though it’s still undetermined which proposal county officials are favoring for a casino in south county, the St. Louis County Port Authority’s selection committee made it certain last week that Harrah’s won’t be one of them.

The committee postponed its recommendation to the Port Authority last week and will not announce its selection, now narrowed to Isle of Capri Casinos and Pinnacle Entertainment, until Feb. 10.

Committee Chairman Denny Coleman, who also serves as the St. Louis County Economic Council’s president and chief financial officer, announced that Harrah’s has been “removed” from further consideration because the company did not submit a companion proposal for a casino in the city, according to a Jan. 14 press release.

Harrah’s submitted a proposal to build a 90,000-square-foot casino south of Interstate 270/255, west of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge and near Bussen Quarry.

The company also proposed a 180,000-square-foot non-gaming facility that would have included a multi-purpose entertainment complex with restaurants. Company estimates revealed that the project would have cost $275 million, generating from 1,300 to 1,350 jobs. Harrah’s, unlike Isle of Capri and Pinnacle, did not respond to the city’s similar request for proposals in November. Harrah’s contended, during a Dec. 18 public meeting, it could not establish or guarantee a particular downtown site and decided to solely pursue a county location, according to Coleman.

“The decision to eliminate Harrah’s was one weighed very heavily because of the outstanding nature of the proposal and the strength of the company,” Coleman told the Call, noting that the Missouri Gaming Commission recently had indicated preference of a downtown casino. “It was a difficult decision, but we thought the absence of a counterpart proposal was too big of a hurdle for them.”

Coleman also announced that the committee no longer was considering sharing revenue with a city casino, he told the Call.

Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, adamantly has opposed any type of revenue sharing between the city and county. The late County Executive George R. “Buzz” Westfall and Mayor Francis Slay announced in September they were leading a joint city-county effort to attract casino developers — potentially a single developer — to both areas and to possibly divide the revenue that would be gained by each. Campisi previously told the Call he opposed revenue sharing because he believed the city needed help and was trying to link with the county for assistance.

“Anything made in south county ought to stay in south county and (be) used in south county,” Campisi said.

Revenue sharing, which only was an option being entertained by regional leaders, according to Coleman, no longer is needed because the committee believed the county and city proposals were of such high quality that they could function independently from each other.

“Looking at the sites in the county … from what we were able to glean from the proposals in the city of St. Louis, each proposal could stand on their own merit,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that sometime in the future, new information may come into play, but based on what we know now, revenue sharing is not necessary.”

Despite the move away from a revenue-sharing plan with the city, the committee still asked Harrah’s to leave the playing table because it did not submit a proposal for a casino in the city.

“Both of the remaining gaming companies as well as the gaming commission understand a south county site with a very high quality development could very well cannibalize a portion of a downtown facility’s revenue,” Coleman said. “If the same company is in both downtown and south county, obviously the company will take steps to target different markets … so that one isn’t draining the resources of another.”

Pinnacle has proposed a 90,000-square-foot gaming facility that would be attached to a 360,000-square-foot non-gaming facility in Lemay at the former National Lead Site.

The non-gaming facility would include a hotel, an outlet mall, a bowling alley and restaurants. The company also is considering developing land adjacent to the casino to be used as park land. Pinnacle predicts the facilities would generate about 2,000 jobs, with the project costing $300 million.

Isle of Capri, however, is eyeing an Oakville site. It has proposed construction of a 70,000-square-foot gaming facility immediately south of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge, south of Interstate 270/255. The south county proposal also would entail a 30,000-square-foot non-gaming entertainment and hotel complex, which could generate 1,265 jobs. Isle of Capri estimates the project would cost $17 million.

Both Isle of Capri and Pinnacle submitted companion proposals to develop casinos in the city, but Pinnacle was chosen last week.

Coleman noted that before the city had made its decision on Jan. 15 — to accept Pinnacle’s proposal for a city casino located on Laclede’s Landing, directly across from the Edward Jones Dome — companies had asked for a moratorium on a south county casino if they were not selected for both locations.

Asked if the committee was in a dilemma and would be forced to accept Pinnacle’s proposal, Coleman said the panel wanted to evaluate the commission’s reaction to the city’s decision before it moved forward.

“We have to weigh that as one of our considerations right now,” he told the Call. “Also, the gaming commission will look at the city’s selection, Pinnacle. And the site that Pinnacle has proposed for the county is the National Lead Site. As was very clearly demonstrated eight years ago, what we think is the best site and what the gaming commission feels is the best deal, doesn’t necessarily jive.”

“We need to evaluate the city’s decision in relationship to the gaming commission’s stated priority of a downtown facility,” he said, adding that the committee plans to have discussions with city and gaming commission counterparts, which will take up a majority of the committee’s time before the Feb. 10 announcement.

Committee members, made up of county officials and Greg Hayden, chairman of the Lemay Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee, will use the rest of its time to analyze the significant amount of additional information that Isle of Capri and Pinnacle recently have sent the committee, according to Coleman.

If the Port Authority accepts the selection committee’s recommendation Feb. 10, the proposal would be forwarded to the County Council. Upon the the council’s approval, the Missouri Gaming Commission will make the final decision regarding a casino in south county.

Campisi told the Call that he supports the committee’s decision to hold off on a recommendation. He said the people of south county and councilmen need more time to learn as much about the proposals as possible.