Slots at PHL? Council to roll dice

Posted: March 21, 2014

THAT TIME you spend waiting around for your next flight at Philadelphia International Airport could be spent investing in public education - if playing a one-armed bandit is your idea of investing.

City Council will decide in the coming weeks whether to push for airport slot machines that would benefit Philadelphia's cash-strapped schools. Yesterday, it approved a resolution to hold hearings on the subject.

The scheme would still need approval from state lawmakers in Harrisburg.

Councilman Jim Kenney says he's betting that some of travelers' downtime after they've gone through security could be spent playing slots, with proceeds going directly to the school district.

"Years ago, when we were having the whole casino debate, it was suggested that one of the ways to keep [casinos] out of the neighborhood was to take it to the airport," he said.

"There, you have a captive audience of ticketed players waiting for planes, or waiting for connections, with nothing to do. Maybe they put their money in a slot machine."

Last year, said Kenney, McCarran International Airport's 1,300 slot machines raked in roughly $37 million for the city of Las Vegas.

It remains unclear, however, how well the measure would be received in the state Legislature, which regulates gambling in Philadelphia.

"If Harrisburg is looking for nontax-revenue ways to provide additional money for schools, this is a perfect opportunity," Kenney said.

"It may be a bit of a heavy lift as it relates to the gaming commission and the Legislature, but I think it's worth at least examining."

Speaking of heavy lifting, Councilwoman Cindy Bass introduced a bill yesterday that would give small businesses within 100 feet of city-operated construction sites a tax break.

Bass pitched her Infrastructure Improvement Tax Credit and Deferral bill as an attempt to reduce financial losses suffered by small businesses when the city decides to come in and carry out renovations in close proximity. Often, said Bass, during long-term improvement projects, access to local businesses is obstructed or cut off from customers who may think the business is closed when it's actually open.

"Take for example the West Philadelphia Market-Frankford El improvement, which was a great idea - great streets, great improvements, but no businesses left afterwards," Bass said.

"This is a tax-relief bill for small businesses. We think it's going to be very helpful to them and it's going to be beneficial to the city as well because we'll be able to help people stay afloat."

Finally, and as predicted, Council gave unanimous approval to the $99 limit on gifts that can be accepted by city officials and their staff. The move rebuffs recommendations made by the ethics board, which suggested Council cap values of gifts at $50.

City Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. called it good public policy:

"The ethics board is right to say that we should limit the amount of gifts - not that a hamburger will buy a vote - but we have to be careful that people don't feel entitled once they give you a gratuity."

On Twitter: @RuffTuffDH

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