DN Editorial: Double down on 2nd city casino?

Predictions about the Philly's one casino - both dire and positive - about gambling's impact on the city haven't really come to pass.
Predictions about the Philly's one casino - both dire and positive - about gambling's impact on the city haven't really come to pass. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 19, 2012

SEVEN YEARS ago, everyone had a job, people bought real estate in a hot market, the Phillies were a couple years away from winning the World Series - and the state began the process of installing two casinos in the city and more around the state.

Obviously, a lot has changed since 2005. For one thing, the city now has only one casino, and the predictions - both dire and positive - about gambling's impact on the city haven't really come to pass. The city wasn't destroyed, but neither was the economy transformed, as some predicted it might be.

All of this should be considered now, as we are about a month away from a deadline for applications for that second license, lost by Foxwoods when construction delays dragged on. On Nov. 15, the application deadline, the state gaming control board will start opening the reams of documents that accompany each.

A recent Inquirer poll showed a majority against a second casino, but there's no telling if we'll see a repeat of the kind of battles that erupted over the casino issue in this city - battles that pitted neighborhood groups against developers, activists against advocates, the city against the state .

Despite the fact that a lot has changed, the basic flawed law remains: A distant state board has the authority to decide where a casino goes in this city. The state also reaps the lion's share of the gambling proceeds.

Last time around, the city's residents and leaders were effective in making their voices heard - the state board and casino operators might say too effective. We hope the city, especially the Nutter administration, does the same this time around. That's not easy, since the city has few bullets it can use.

But one of the strongest pieces of ammunition the city produced in 2005 was a local gaming task force created by then-Mayor John Street. The group, which included three committee chairs, nine staff members and six consultants, produced a 372-page report that provided thoughtful analysis of potential city sites, social impact and economic impact.

It's unclear what impact the report had on the final decision of the Gaming Control Board, but it certainly wasn't ignored. In part, that's because it was a widely distributed public document that provided somewhat of a bible for how the city should navigate this messy, uncharted territory.

The Nutter administration has been meeting with some potential applicants, but we urge them to go further and assemble a similar group to produce a similar report. For one thing, many of the sites studied in 2005 are no longer available, and many other market conditions have changed. And it would be useful if such a study were to actually measure the impact of the single casino that did open and match the results against what had been predicted. Jobs have been created, for example, but the city still struggles with a high unemployment rate. And SugarHouse hasn't transformed the city's economy; neither has it created the dire crime and traffic problems that many feared.

The point is, the city faced many unknown and uncontrollable factors in the first chapter of casinos. But it did arm itself - and us - with information and data, and that made the state's gamble on casinios here less risky.

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