Allentown Airport Sought for Slots Site

Penn National Gaming Inc., based in Wyomissing, Pa., may operate a slots parlor on the site of an airport in Allentown with a Philadelphia-based investor, UCH Venture Capital Inc.

A spokesman for Penn National, the nation's third-largest gambling company, said it was seeking to buy the 208-acre Queen City Municipal Airport property for the casino project.

George Doughty, executive director of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, confirmed last night that Penn National and UCH contacted him about six weeks ago, offering to pay the authority $10 million over 20 years for the land and to finance a new airport on another site.

Doughty said the developers had options on two parcels that totaled about 15 acres next to the Queen City airport. The authority owns that airport and controls the bigger Lehigh Valley International Airport.

"In the longer term, they want some sort of an arrangement to relocate the Queen City Airport," he said. "They would build the slots parlor on the 15 acres. In the future, they would expand their casino and other retail and related development onto the Queen City Airport site.

"To assume all of this will fall into place would be making far-reaching assumptions," he said. "The Airport Authority has basically said that if anything is built on Queen City Airport other than an airport, there are a whole host of conditions that have to be met."

Penn National spokesman Eric Schippers confirmed yesterday that his company was exploring the site with UCH, which he described as a "potential partner."

"Yes, we're continuing to explore the potential opportunity there," Schippers said. "It's an ideal site, adjacent to the airport with great access from I-78.

"We believe this would have a very positive impact on the local economy," he said.

Penn National is one of three major gambling companies that are looking to establish a gambling presence in the area.

Penn National, which is building a $240 million racetrack and slots parlor in Grantville, Pa., just outside Harrisburg, can own up to one-third of any additional gambling location under the state gambling law and could manage other gambling sites.

In July 2004, Pennsylvania legalized slot-machine gambling at 14 places around the state. Penn National is competing for one of two stand-alone slot-parlor licenses in areas outside the state's two biggest cities. Philadelphia will play host to two slots parlors; and Pittsburgh, one. Two resorts will also get licenses, with the remaining seven licenses designated for racetracks.

Last month, Phoenix-based Aztar Corp. announced plans for a $325 million casino in Allentown. Manhattan real estate developer Newmark & Co. and Las Vegas Sands Corp. have allied to convert the former Bethlehem Steel plant site into an $800 million retail and entertainment complex with a slots parlor, hotel and museum on 124 acres.

"They're just trying to get another piece of a license for themselves," gambling analyst Brian McGill at Susquehanna Financial Group said of Penn National. "It will probably be difficult."

Philadelphia Inquirer

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