Pennsylvania - When Mayor Ed Rendell ran this city
in the 1990s, he watched in frustration as thousands of
city residents and visitors streamed down the Atlantic
City Expressway every week to gamble at New Jersey casinos.
Mr. Rendell, as governor, has gone a long way toward keeping
those gamblers at home by legalizing 14 casinos for Pennsylvania,
including two to be built here in the City of Brotherly
Love, where he still lives.
exactly where will those two gambling palaces be located?
Near the huge Pennsylvania Convention Center in the bustling
downtown area known as Center City? At one of several
locations along the scenic Delaware River? Or at ugly
old industrial property in north Philadelphia just optioned
by casino magnate Donald Trump?
answers to those site questions has been the job of the
Philadelphia Gaming Advisory Task Force, which was named
in January by Mayor John F. Street.
delivered its 436-page report to Mr. Street on Thursday,
recommending nine potential sites for the two stand-alone
slots parlors, each of which is expected to have about
3,000 slots machines.
final decisions on which developers get the two casino
licenses is up to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
But the siting recommendations from the city's task force
are expected to carry considerable weight with the seven-member
task force has spent nine months looking at three major
issues: where the casinos should go, how much they might
mean in terms of revenue and jobs for the city, and what
problems can be expected, such as increased traffic congestion,
crime and gambling addictions.
coming of gaming to Philadelphia could be the best thing
that ever happened to us, or it could be the worst,"
Mr. Street told a news conference Thursday in City Hall,
a stately old building at Broad and Market streets with
a statue of William Penn on top.
some cities the expected revenue from gaming didn't materialize,
and it ended up creating nightmares for them," such
as adding to crime problems and having to treat more people
with gambling addictions, Mr. Street said.
are also concerned that putting thousands of slot machines
at inappropriate locations could create traffic nightmares."
the mayor professed confidence that such problems wouldn't
occur in Philadelphia. He said he wants casinos to be
"a part'' of the solution for making Philadelphia
more attractive for tourists and natives, combining with
Independence Hall and other historic attractions, plus
restaurants, universities, museums, art galleries, shops,
theaters, nightclubs and sports stadiums.
gaming task force said the city can expect several thousand
new permanent jobs from the two casinos, as well as temporary
construction jobs. There also will be up to $30 million
for city coffers from a 4 percent gaming "host fee"
the law provides for the city and county, which in Philadelphia's
case are the same entity.
a new state economic development fund, to be funded with
5 percent of the gross gaming revenues from all 14 casinos,
is expected to provide several hundred million dollars
to pay for a major expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention
Center, which opened in 1993.
task force has spent months studying where to recommend
putting the two gambling casinos.
listed three general areas within the city. Five sites
lie along the Delaware River, which separates Philadelphia
from Camden, N.J.; two sites are near the downtown convention
center; and two sites about 10 miles from downtown, one
in north Philadelphia and one on the city's western edge,
bordering Montgomery County.
Street said he has intentionally not met with any potential
casino developers until the report was issued, but will
begin doing so over the next few weeks.
would-be developers have until Dec. 28 to submit a stand-alone
casino application with the state gaming board. The board
has up to 12 months to make its decisions.
Trump vice president, Robert Fickus, said Trump will definitely
seek a casino license for an 18-acre former industrial
property in north Philadelphia called the Budd Co. property.
The working-class neighborhood, which contains some older
rowhouses and many empty industrial buildings, is called
massive Budd complex, with several large empty brick structures,
one 10 stories high, is where doors for automobiles and
chassis for rail cars were once made. It sits a block
away from the Tasty Baking Co., a Philadelphia landmark,
near the intersection of Route 1 and the Schuylkill Expressway.
Fickus said he likes the site because it is about 10 miles
from all but one of the competing sites. City officials
said they don't want both of their new casinos too close
to each other, to avoid creating traffic gridlock.
spreading out the two casinos geographically, it reaches
a broader overall [gaming] market and generates more revenue,
which benefits the operator, the city and the state,"
Mr. Fickus said.
only other casino site near Nicetown is an area zoned
for retail stores several miles west along Route 1, an
area bordering Montgomery County. But local officials
said the Target company has its eye on that land for a
new retail complex anchored by a mammoth Target store.
of the nine sites recommended by the Street task force
stretch along the Delaware River. One is a vacant city-owned
site, where a municipal incinerator used to be; not far
away is a site in a neighborhood called Fishtown, where
the waterfront property is owned by Ameristar Casinos,
a company based in Las Vegas that owns seven casinos around
third riverfront site, several miles to the south of those
two, is now controlled by Harrah's casinos, which acquired
the land a year ago when it took over Caesar's casinos;
a fourth site, near Harrah's land, contains a sheet metal
workers building; and the fifth site is the sprawling
former Philadelphia Navy Yard, in the southernmost part
of the city.
isn't certain if casino developers will present proposals
to build on all five sites. Harrah's is not expected to
pursue a casino within Philadelphia because it's a partner
in a new racetrack/casino to be built along the Delaware
in Chester, about 10 miles south of Philadelphia.
Street has expressed an interest in having a minority-owned
casino group look into putting a casino on the incinerator
site. A group led by lawyer Kenneth Trujillo, a former
Philadelphia city solicitor who has political ties to
Mr. Street and Mr. Rendell, is considering the idea.
spokesman Kevin Feeley said his firm definitely will propose
building a $450 million project containing a casino, retail
shops, restaurants and entertainment on the Fishtown parcel,
which is located between heavily traveled I-95 and the
river, not far from the incinerator site.
Feeley said the Fishtown area is "a working-class
neighborhood that has a great mix of people, some longtime
residents, some immigrants, some gentrification, with
a lot of artists."
remaining two casino sites are along busy Market Street
in the downtown area near the convention center. Shawn
Fordham, director of the casino task force, said the advantage
of putting one casino there is that it would give convention-goers
something to do.
conventioneers already schedule one night during their
stay in Philadelphia to travel to Atlantic City, and Mr.
Street is hoping to capture that market.
the two parcels near the convention center are among the
smallest of the nine potential sites, which could prove
to be a drawback, Mr. Fordham said. Casino operators like
to have all the slots machines on one floor, which necessitates
a large footprint for the casino, and could rule out the
two downtown sites, he added.
"social impact" subcommittee of the gaming task
force had several recommendations for city officials,
aimed at easing negative effects of slots.
70 to 100 additional city police officers should be hired
to deal with thefts, fighting and other problems that
could result at casinos, it said, and city police should
be given "specialized training in casino crimes,"
such as counterfeiting, fraud and check forgery.
public health officials should educate residents "on
how to identify problematic gambling" by family members,
and the city should coordinate efforts with outside consultants
and state health officials to develop programs to treat