Jordan mulling investment in slot machine parlor

Updated: November 16, 2006, 11:58 PM ET
Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Former NBA star Michael Jordan could become an investor in a slot-machine parlor in Philadelphia, state gambling regulators were told Wednesday.

Regulators on Wednesday concluded three days of hearings on applications by five groups -- professional casino operators with politically connected or celebrity investment partners -- hoping to open slots casinos in Philadelphia. Jordan's became the latest celebrity name to be dropped by applicants competing for licenses in what could be the nation's largest city with standalone casinos.

The two licenses up for grabs in Philadelphia would allow the owners to install up to 5,000 slot machines in each of their proposed gambling halls. The state has not legalized table games.

Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. testified Wednesday in support of its proposed $350 million waterfront slots parlor on the Delaware River.

If Pinnacle gets a license, company officials plan to bring in Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, as a partner.

In testimony, Johnson told members of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board that he would sell part of his one-third stake in the slots parlor to Jordan, who is a partner of Johnson's in the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats. Attaching the name of a celebrity to the gambling establishment should help improve its draw, he said.

With minority involvement one of the gaming board's criteria for awarding a license, Johnson said he hoped that his investment would ensure that Pinnacle provides job opportunities for minorities.

Over the next three weeks, the gaming board plans to hear from eight slots applicants from Pittsburgh and other parts of the state that are competing for three more highly sought-after licenses.

The gaming board plans to vote Dec. 20 to award as many as 12 permanent slots licenses to racetracks, resorts and the standalone sites.

Three of the five Philadelphia applicants -- those led by Pinnacle, Donald Trump's casino company and billionaire developer Neil G. Bluhm -- cleared gaming board reviews for legal and financial suitability.

But groups led by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Planet Hollywood International Inc. did not, and will have to resolve those issues in the coming weeks if they expect to compete for a license.

C. Patrick McKoy, the chief executive of Planet Hollywood's proposed Riverwalk Casino, said the board wants to address questions about the casino's ownership structure.

Under Planet Hollywood's deal, a partnership group composed primarily of politically connected and minority investors from Philadelphia would get 51 percent of the profits, but would not be responsible for a commensurate amount of upfront capital.

McKoy defended the financial structure as viable, and said the partnership group had spent money and time drawing up a legal organization and finding a casino operator as its partner.

"They didn't just jump on board and say that we want a profit distribution from a casino company," McKoy said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press