Pa. Supreme Court rebuffs casino foes

Posted: June 06, 2007

Neighbors of the proposed Foxwoods Casino had no legal standing to challenge the state's decision to build a slots-parlor near their homes, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

In a ruling that augurs ill for similar challenges by City Council, anti-casino activists and neighborhood groups, the Supreme Court yesterday dismissed an appeal from four civic associations opposed to the licensing of Foxwoods Casino on Christopher Columbus Boulevard in South Philadelphia.

The ruling, against Society Hill Civic Association, Queen Village Neighbors Association, Pennsport Civic Association and Whitman Council, was applauded by Foxwoods and SugarHouse casinos - the two partnerships licensed by the state to build in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia casinos still face other legal and political obstacles, including four remaining appeals before the Supreme Court, and a casino-restrictive ordinance to be considered by Council next week.

While local civic groups continue to boycott negotiations with casinos over changes the projects will bring to the neighborhoods, a Foxwoods spokeswoman said she hopes the ruling would begin to change that. "This gives us an opportunity to have meaningful discussions with the community groups," Foxwoods spokeswoman Maureen Garrity said.

That is not the current plan of the Society Hill Civic Association.

"We're not going to change our course," said Richard de Wyngaert, the group's president. "It gives us one more example of the court silencing the people."

The neighbors had argued that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's licensing decision was illegally made behind closed doors, and its members were plagued by conflicts of interest.

But the Court agreed with arguments by Foxwoods, SugarHouse and the Gaming Control Board, that the neighborhood groups should have made formal appeals to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board during the license application process last year.

The Society Hill group's attorney, Larry Silver, said the Supreme Court had shown previously, by refusing to allow an anti-casino referendum on the May 15 primary ballot, that it would tolerate little opposition to the state's plan to build 14 slots parlors across the state.

Paul Boni, attorney for the city's leading casino-opposition group, Casino Free Philadelphia, said the ruling doesn't offer much hope for the other appeals, which include his clients.

"Come on, this is Pennsport, Whitman and Society Hill, people who live hundreds of feet from the casinos," Boni said. "If they don't have standing, they've obviously tortured the law beyond recognition."

Four appeals remain in Philadelphia challenging the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's Dec. 20 licensing decisions. One was filed by Riverwalk Casino, one of three failed bidders for the city's two available slots licenses. City Council filed its own appeal, and a combination of neighborhood groups and casino opponents filed two others.


Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 610-313-8173 or jshields@phillynews.com.

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