Anti-gamers fight
Philly slots licenses

Mar 27, 2007 7:08 AM

While the politicians in Washington, D.C., struggle for power in battling the White House, Pennsylvania has its own tug-of-war, only in this case it has to do with the right to authorize slot machines.

Under the law granting two locales — Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — the right to have stand alone casinos, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has awarded slots licenses to the SugarHouse Casino and Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia in the eastern part of the state and to Don Barden for a casino in the west.

But Casino-Free Philadelphia has challenged the right of the state regulators to grant these licenses and has petitioned the Philadelphia City Council to block the slots parlors until the voters have a chance to pass on the issue.

The City Council agreed that slot parlors are a "home rule" issue and plan to place the slots question on the May 15 primary election ballot.

Of particular concern to promoters is the language of the ballot question that has been unanimously approved by the council. It would prevent slots parlors from being built within 1,500 feet of a school, home, place of worship, civic center, park, playground, pool or library.

That would pretty much shut down the riverfront sites picked by both SugarHouse and Foxwoods Casino.

Gov. Ed Rendell, who promoted the slots licensing law as a mean of raising more than $1.5 billion a year for public schools and civic development projects, said deciding on gambling is a state function and the decision should override the local concern.

The difference of opinion is expected to go to the state supreme court for a decision.

Legal scholars for the most part agree that the decision will remain in the state’s domain but only time will tell.

The issue involves a great deal of money for the license holders, the state and the community. Slots gaming popularity in Pennsylvania has been underscored by the brief results of machines installed at four racetracks.

Leading the pack is Philadelphia Park, located in Bensalem, with $632 million since it opened last December; Harrah’s Chester Downs, a harness facility that has taken in $449 million since opening in January; Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, a smaller harness facility that has banked $352 million , and Presque Isle Downs, the most recent track to open with $141.9 million after only three weeks.