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Published:December 25th, 2006 14:49 EST
Future of NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins in Doubt

Future of NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins in Doubt

By Brad Davis

The future of the NHL`s Pittsburgh Penguins was cast in doubt Wednesday after a unanimous decision by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board denied Isle of Capri Casinos the city`s only available slots license. The slot machine casino firm was one of three bidding for the Pittsburgh license and had promised to build the Penguins a brand new $290 million arena without the use of public funds or a contribution from the organization had they won. Instead, the license went to PITG Gaming Majestic Star, and the team`s shot at getting a free arena is up in smoke.

Penguin`s officials later announced that the team was no longer for sale and efforts to keep the team in Pittsburgh will move to Plan B. " It is time to take control of our own destiny, " owner Mario Lemieux said in a statement. Starting Thursday, the team is off the market. " Recent developments have been discouraging for the financially struggling Penguins.

Days before the PGCB`s vote, Billionaire Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie shied out of a virtually done deal to buy the team from Lemieux and company for $175 million. Many suspect the cop-out was due to the NHL`s insistence that Mr. Balsillie keep the team in Pittsburgh. Balsillie`s change of heart, coupled with Wednesday`s outcome, placed a gloomy outlook on the chances of the forty-year-old organization remaining in the city. At this point, our franchise enters a period of uncertainty, " Penguins CEO Ken Sawyer said in a statement.

We will re-evaluate all of our options before deciding on a course of action. " With the Penguin`s lease at 45-year-old Mellon Arena expiring in June, politicians and local leaders are scrambling to get Plan B moving. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has drawn up a preliminary proposal calling for the Penguins to contribute $8 million up front and $4.5 million per year over 30 years.

I will shortly reach out to the Penguins owner about finalizing our financing package for the new arena, " said a confident Rendell. The city of Pittsburgh has already bought the site near Mellon Arena for $20 million and city officials say a groundbreaking ceremony could be held as soon as a deal is reached. However, it`s difficult to say how long negotiations will take.

Lemieux has been openly critical of the city`s unwillingness to offer a better a financial commitment on a new building, and the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement for seven years. Contract restrictions with Isle of Capri also prevented the Penguins from negotiating a new arena deal until now. After seven years of trying to work out a new arena deal exclusively in Pittsburgh, we need to take into consideration the long-term viability of the team, " Lemieux said.

Despite the recent setbacks for the team, city officials remain confident an agreement on a new arena can be reached before the Penguins are forced to relocate. There`s absolutely no doubt in my mind that we can get this deal done, " said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.