10 reasons to bet on casinos not moving

Posted: July 09, 2008

In the frantic and furious final days of the state budget last week, the relocation of two proposed riverfront casinos got new attention from Gov. Rendell and state legislators eager to solve the long-simmering dispute.

That serves as new hope to residents near the proposed casinos along the Delaware River who want them moved. But casino relocation still faces very long odds.

Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Rendell, having previously railed against efforts to move Foxwoods from its South Philly site and SugarHouse from its Fishtown site, now promises a "good-faith effort" at a discussion on the casinos' voluntarily relocating. But Rendell quickly cautions: Don't get "too excited."

2. State Sen. Vince Fumo forced the issue as the budget wrapped up by attaching an amendment to unrelated legislation affecting other developments around the state that would make it more difficult for casinos to get tax breaks. But that legislation passed without the amendment and is expected to be signed into law by Rendell, removing Fumo's political leverage.

3. Fumo, who lobbed legislative threats at the casinos last week to warn them from resisting relocation efforts, is leaving the Senate before the end of his term to prepare for his federal trial on corruption charges in September.

4. State Rep. Dwight Evans joined Fumo's call for relocation because he was frustrated with the issue intruding on unrelated legislation. But Evans is reluctant to threaten stripping the casinos of their 10-year tax abatements if they refuse to move. "I'm not prepared to say that at this particular point," Evans said.

5. The casinos have said repeatedly that they have invested millions in their current locations, approved in December 2006 by the state Gaming Control Board, and will not be moved. Take our tax breaks, they warn, and we'll just spend less on improvements for the neighborhoods surrounding the casinos.

6. Where are the proposed new sites? Fumo and state Reps. Bill Keller and Mike O'Brien pushed legislation to force the casinos to locations near Philadelphia International Airport. But that violates a ban on building casinos within 10 miles of the Harrah's Chester Casino and racetrack. Such a move is also opposed by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi of Delaware County. Mayor Nutter has called for a study on new sites, but the city has no power to force the casinos to move.

7. The relocation legislation didn't gain momentum in the General Assembly this year. Legislation last year to ban construction of casinos within 1,500 feet of homes in the city also failed to move forward.

8. The General Assembly is growing impatient with Philadelphia's casino mess. There are now seven casinos open in the state, from Wilkes-Barre to Erie, generating millions in state taxes. Where, legislators wonder, is the share of the loot from Philadelphia?

9. Community groups have taken their shot. Casino-Free Philadelphia, quiet since mid-April, yesterday issued an open letter calling for any effort at casino relocation to be fair and open and to include an option for no casinos in the city. The Philadelphia Neighborhood Alliance has been more active, but disagrees with Rendell's assertion that he doesn't have the legal power to make the casinos move.

10. The state's gaming law, enact-ed four years ago this month, sends any legal dispute about casinos straight to the state Supreme Court. Foxwoods and SugarHouse are sure to contest any legislation to force them to move. The court has so far ruled every time in favor of the two casinos. *

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