Anti-slots group polls voters at 43 locations

Casino-Free Phila. said results would not be released until week's end.

Posted: May 16, 2007

It was the most talked-about ballot question not on the ballot: Should the two proposed casinos for Philadelphia be kept 1,500 feet from all homes, schools, churches and playgrounds?

Volunteers for Casino-Free Philadelphia, an activist group opposed to casinos, manned 43 polling stations, asking residents to answer the casino question on paper ballots they supplied.

Many voters said they were eager for the opportunity and miffed that court action had prevented the question from being included on the ballot.

The casinos were supposed to be the No. 1 question for voters.

But the state's Gaming Control Board sued to stop the referendum. Yesterday, the ballot on each voting machine had the casino question covered over with the words, "Removed by court order."

"We should've had a vote on it," said Al Davis of Germantown, who voted yes on creating a casino buffer zone after casting his ballot at the Awbury Recreation Center. "We should give the people of Philadelphia the opportunity to make a decision, to say yea or nay."

The results of the unofficial vote on casinos - cast on paper, by phone or online - will not be known until Friday or Saturday, said Daniel Hunter, an organizer for Casino-Free Philadelphia.

Volunteers needed to check each name against the city's voter rolls, he said.

Maureen Garrity, a spokeswoman for Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia, said that Casino-Free Philadelphia had not solicited opinions at all 1,200 polling locations, and that there was no impartial oversight of the collection or counting of votes.

"Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia certainly respects the right of citizens to voice their opinions, but we believe this 'shadow election' is shadowy at best," she said.

Dan Fee, a spokesman for the SugarHouse casino project, said the casino vote "is not worth writing about."

"They're saying this has citywide importance when they're barely talking to anyone and they are selecting the areas where these are," Fee said.

Hunter said Casino-Free Philadelphia had invited the Foxwoods and SugarHouse companies to observe the vote-counting, but that neither company had replied directly.

"Our response has been, 'We'll come and observe - as soon as you open your books,' " Fee said.

Casino-Free Philadelphia, Hunter said, is funded by contributions from individuals, and received a $10,000 grant from the Philadelphia Foundation.

Garrity said Foxwoods representatives would not attend the ballot-counting.

"As far as I know, we have not received any invitation. And even if we had, our issue is that the process is not secure. Anyone can vote multiple times," Garrity said. "We have issues with the integrity of the process, not just the counting of the ballots."

At the polling station on 74th Avenue in West Oak Lane, Beverly and Ricky Rawls relished the chance to voice their opinion - "yes" to putting casinos away from neighborhoods.

"I don't like gambling because of the stuff it brings - crime, prostitution, drugs," Beverly Rawls, 46, said. "On the surface, it looks real good, but overall, I don't think it's good for people. People will get wrapped up in gambling. I've seen people lose their homes. It's just as bad as being a crack addict."

"It's not worth it," her husband, also 46, added.


Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com.

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