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ALLENTOWN, PA-Phoenix-based Aztar Corp. has unveiled plans for a 23-acre Lehigh Valley Tropicana casino and resort here at the Downtown site of the former Western Electric and AT&T plants. Its initial investment is estimated at $325 million.

The first phase would include a 250-room hotel, 100,000 sf of casino space for 3,000 slot machines, up to 13 restaurants, a 5,000-sf showroom and a conference center of up to 15,000 sf. There will be parking for 3,400 vehicles.

In making the announcement, the owner of Tropicana resorts in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, entered the competition under way for 14 gambling licenses the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will grant beginning next year. The 14 include licenses for seven racetracks and just five standalone casinos. Of the five, two are designated for Philadelphia and one for Pittsburgh, making this one of just two available standalone facilities outside those two cities. The deadline for applications is Dec. 28.

Matzel Development recently tossed its hat into the ring of competitors for one of the two licenses with a plan to buy and redevelop Pocono Manor Inn & Golf Resort. New York City-based Newmark & Co. and Las Vegas-based Sands Corp. have formed a JV to include a Venetian brand hotel and casino in the BethWorks Now redevelopment of the Bethlehem Steel site in nearby Bethlehem. According to published reports, the one-time owner of the former Mount Airy Lodge in the Poconos is also a contender. Following resistance to a gambling venue in Bethlehem, the question was put to a vote and voters rejected a ban on casino development.

A native of nearby Scranton, PA, Robert M. Haddock, chairman, president and CEO of Aztar, said in a statement, “We want to build a magnificent destination resort in the Lehigh Valley.” According to the statement, 10 million potential customers live within 75 miles of the project, and Aztar’s projections indicate this facility “will attract upwards of 3.5 million customer visits a year.” A master plan of this Tropicana calls for its eventual expansion to a 500-room hotel, 5,000 slot machines, more than 20 restaurants along with retail shops and a spa. The facility’s design will take its cue from the Quarter in the company’s Atlantic City property, which has an Old Havana theme.

The site is at the intersection of American Parkway and Agere Way, about 1.3 miles from the intersection of Rte. 22 and Airport Rd. with no residences or schools nearby. The VP of Aztar corporate communications, tells GlobeSt.com that, unlike proposals for gambling in Bethlehem, this project has not met with opposition, “although it is not uncommon for gambling venues to meet with resistance,” he says. Zoning allows for gaming operations, and independent environmental studies failed to identify any conditions that would be expected to delay development. The first phase of the development could be open within 15 to 18 months after building permits are issued.

In addition to its Las Vegas and Atlantic City Tropicana branded facilities, Aztar owns Ramada Express Hotel and Casino in Laughlin, NV and Casino Aztar branded riverboat gambling facilities in Caruthersville, MO and Evansville, IN.

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