Casino exec backs eminent domain : Press of Atlantic City (NJ), 5/24/06

By Donald Wittkowski

One of the country's top gaming executives urged Atlantic City to make greater use of the controversial practice of eminent domain to create space for casino construction.

Peter M. Carlino, chairman and chief executive officer of Penn National Gaming Inc., said eminent domain would help solve the city's critical shortage of developable land and encourage more casino companies to come to town.

“My point is simple: Atlantic City is the poster city why eminent domain is essential for widespread urban redevelopment,” he said in remarks Tuesday at the East Coast Gaming Congress, an annual gathering of casino executives.

Penn National would like to build a casino in Atlantic City but currently lacks a site, Carlino explained during a panel discussion of casino CEOs. Penn National, operator of 16 casinos and horseracing tracks, is the largest gaming company in the country that doesn't have a casino in Atlantic City or Las Vegas.

In Atlantic City, there are only a few remaining spots large enough to accommodate construction of a full-fledged casino project, and those are already owned by other gaming companies.

Carlino noted that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling last June involving New London, Conn., gave communities more power to seize private property for economic development. He said the ruling would make it easier for Atlantic City to condemn land for casino projects, but added that the process should be done in a “thoughtful, comprehensive” way.

In 1998, Atlantic City was the battleground for a high-profile eminent domain case pitting Donald Trump's casino company against an elderly widow and the owners of a small restaurant next to Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. A New Jersey Superior Court judge ruled against Trump, saying that his attempts to use the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to seize Sabatini's restaurant and widow Vera Coking's boarding home for casino expansion were illegal.

Putting the court case behind them, Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. agreed last year to pay the Sabatini family $2.1 million for the restaurant property. However, the company has not been able to reach a deal with Coking for her former boarding home adjacent to Trump Plaza.

Carlino cited the Trump and New London cases while arguing for broader use of eminent domain as a catalyst for casino development. His controversial remarks prompted jokes from another casino panelist.

Gary W. Loveman, chairman and CEO of Harrah's Entertainment Inc., sarcastically suggested that Atlantic City should condemn Trump Plaza and give the site to Caesars — now owned by Harrah's — for its proposed casino-hotel expansion.

“That's a strategy I never even considered,” Loveman said, drawing laughter from the audience.

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