Penguins' casino gamble folds

The Pittsburgh Penguins' future became even more uncertain Wednesday when the Isle of Capri Casino, which had promised to build the team a new arena, was denied a slot licence.

Gaming board's decision quashes plan for new arena from Isle of Capri Casinos

The Pittsburgh Penguins' future became even more uncertainWednesday when the Isle of Capri Casino, which had promised to build the team a new arena,was denied a slot licence.
Penguins CEO Ken Sawyer talks at a media conference on Wednesday. ((Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press))

Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. was one of several candidates that was bidding for a casino licence for a new downtown Pittsburgh slot machine parlour. The companyhad agreed that if it got the licence, it wouldbuild a new $290-million US arena to replace the 45-year-old Mellon Arena, the oldest arena in the NHL.

Last week, after Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie withdrew his offer to purchase the hockey club, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged that the Penguins' future in Pittsburgh was dependent on the granting of the Isle of Capri licence.

"Obviously, we are very disappointed that the Isle of Capri was not awarded the slots licence," Penguins CEO Ken Sawyer said in a statement.

The state Gaming Control Board in Harrisburg, Penn., approved PITG Gaming Majestic Star of Detroit over Isle of Capri on Wednesday. Forest City Enterprises was the other bidder for the slots licence.

"Had Isle of Capri been selected, it would have ensured the long-term future of the Penguins in Pittsburgh and would have delivered a $1-billion development opportunity to the Lower Hill and Uptown," Sawyer said.

"At this point, our franchise enters a period of uncertainty, with our lease at Mellon Arena set to expire this summer. We will re-evaluate all of our options before deciding on a course of action and making further comment."

PITG Gaming Majestic Star had said earlier thatit would contribute some moneyover the years towarda new arena, but its plan also called for the Penguins to help pay for the rink.

"I am committed to what we said we were going to do," Don H. Barden, the head of PITG Gaming, said after winning the bid.

"We're going to fund $7.5 million a year for 30 years towards financing a new multipurpose arena."

Bettman warned that the Penguins' future in Pittsburgh is in doubt.

"The decision by the gaming commission was terrible news for the Penguins, their fans and the NHL," Bettman said in a statement.

"The future of this franchise in Pittsburgh is uncertain and the Penguins now will have to explore all other options, including possible relocation. The NHL will support the Penguins in their endeavours."

2 Canadians indicate interest in team

Balsillie, co-chief executive officer of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd., had signed an agreement to buy the team in October for a reported $175 million, pending approval from the league.

According to sources, part of the reason the deal fell through was that Balsillie wasn't happy with the NHL's insistence that keeping the team in Pittsburgh be part of the deal.

Balsillie has indicated he's still interested in trying to purchase the Penguins but majority owner Mario Lemieux said any deal with the billionaire is dead.

On the weekend, another Canadian — Frank D'Angelo, owner of Ontario-based Steelback Breweries — expressed his interest in buying the Penguins.

The decision to pursue the Penguins was made after a six-hour meeting on Friday between D'Angelo and his business partner, Dr. Barry Sherman, the chief executive officer of pharmaceutical giant Apotex.

D'Angelo's bid for a CFL franchise in Ottawa was recently turned down.

With files from the Canadian Press