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A Philadelphia Story, Redux

Written by Bill Toland on .

Mayor Michael Nutter and Gov. Ed Rendell: daylife.comIt's hard to tell how much traction this bill will get, or if Gov. Ed Rendell is serious about supporting it, but you have to think that Philadelphia city fathers are sweating just a bit:

"Republican state senator from Erie took aim yesterday at Philadelphia's pocketbook, trying to deprive the city of millions of economic development dollars if it doesn't get its two slots casinos up and running soon. Sen. Jane Earll openly admits she's using financial pressure to get the casinos, called Sugar House and Foxwoods, open and generating revenue to reduce property taxes for Pennsylvania homeowners ... Mrs. Earl's Senate Bill 200 would deprive Philadelphia of up to $64 million a year from a slots-generated economic development fund, which is paying for an $880 million expansion of Philly's convention center. She also might take aim at the $86 million a year the city gets in wage tax relief. Both revenue streams would be shut off until the two casinos are open."

Did I just say it's hard to tell if the governor would take this bill seriously? It just became easier to tell:

"Gov. Ed Rendell no longer supports cutting off Philadelphia from the state's slot-machine gambling revenues. Rendell said through a spokesman Monday that he believes there's been enough progress toward building two licensed casinos in Philadelphia to make such a law unnecessary. [A] state Senate committee voted 10-to-4 Monday to cut off Philadelphia from any gaming revenues that support civic development projects. Last month, Rendell said he would sign such a bill out of frustration with political opposition to the construction of SugarHouse Casino and Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia."

... on this side of the state, it's not the lack of contruction that's infuriating critics, but the nature of it:

"It's bad enough that the promised first-class jewel that the North Shore casino was supposed to be is dwarfed by an oversized hulk of a parking garage. Now the owners want to hang two jumbotrons on the sides to advertise what's going on inside the slots parlor. The building's architect [last week] presented plans for two screens, each 31.25 feet wide and 17.5 feet high, one that would face Downtown and the other on the side facing the West End Bridge. ... The casino operators want to use their signs to advertise events and restaurants inside the facility, perhaps to show new slot machines that are available and possibly to display live shots from concerts or other performances. We think those intentions far exceed what the city allows in an identification sign," writes the Pee-Gee's editorial board.

... Also from the P-G, state Republicans are asking for yet more revisions to the state's five-year-old gaming law:

"For two years, House Republicans, including Rep. Ron Marsico of Dauphin County, have been insisting on changes in the 2004 law that authorizes 14 slots casinos in Pennsylvania. Now they're getting help from Mr. Marsico's cousin, Dauphin County District Attorney Edward Marsico, who wrote to Gov. Ed Rendell and legislative leaders last week urging them to correct what he sees as weaknesses in the law. [Both] Marsicos want the Legislature to revise the way that the financial and criminal backgrounds of casino license applicants are investigated."

Doing so, they said, would allow state investigators to have full access to a casino applicant's criminal history.

... one more, from the P-G's Tom Barnes:

Members of the state's Gaming Control Board, including Chairwoman Mary D. Colins, got a good scolding this week from state Sen. Jane Earll, R-Erie, who was upset over their spending practices. Specifically, she was upset at a trip that four board members and a staffer took to Rome last September, spending $32,000, just a few days after Gov. Ed Rendell imposed a ban on out of state travel.

Ms. Colins said it was an important international gaming conference and plans had been set to attend before Mr. Rendell issued his edict. The governor allowed the trip as an exception to his ban. Mrs. Earll said board officials have spent $135,000 on travel, meals, car rentals and other costs recently, including another conference in Nevada, and that's too much. Mrs. Earll chairs the Senate's Committee on Community, Economic and Recreational Development, which oversees gaming.

Board members said their costs aren't paid for with taxpayers' dollars, but are covered by casino owners. Mrs. Earll said the gaming board should be more attentive to the way things look to ordinary citizens who are strapped for cash. "There is still a perception of extravagant spending and lucrative salaraies and other costs,'' she said. "It's irrelevant that you are not spending tax dollars.''

Besides, the more that casino owners have to spend on board expenses, the less they can invest in their casinos, she said. The gaming board expenses for the owners come on top of the state's 55 percent tax on slots revenue -- 34 percent for property tax relief, 5 percent for an economic development fund, 12 percent for the horse-breeding industry and 4 percent for host counties and cities.

Girls! Girls! Girls!

How are you supposed to organize a halfway-decent bachelor party weekend if there's no strip club within walking distance of the casino?

"Two companies that want to build a strip club near the new casino on the North Shore have filed a federal lawsuit against the city, alleging that its process for obtaining zoning permits are unconstitutional. Pennsylvania Avenue Pittsburgh Properties LLC, which has the right to acquire property at 1620 Pennsylvania Ave., as well as HDV-Pittsburgh LLC, which hopes to lease the premises, filed the complaint yesterday. ... HDV hopes to open a 'cabaret-style nightclub that would feature live, non-obscene, female exotic dance performance,' including clothed, topless and possibly fully nude women, the lawsuit said."

... No Dice, the local anti-casino group, is planning an informational session on the North Side:

"Gambling counselor Lindsay Hargrove, an inspiring and effective speaker, has agreed to participate. Norm B., the faithful leader of Gamblers Anonymous in the Pittsburgh area, and Bill Kearney from Philadelphia have been invited."

The event is scheduled for 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 16, at Calvary United Methodist Church.

Dispatches from the border

News from New York:

"Delaware North took confidential information and used it against former partners in its bid to develop a major casino at a downstate racetrack, its former partner alleges in a new lawsuit. The court action comes as Gov. David A. Paterson has asked Delaware North and others to again submit bids to operate the casino at Aqueduct racetrack. It accuses the privately-held Buffalo company of breach of contract and other misdeeds that derailed the attempt of other firms interested in the lucrative deal."

Delaware North is the same company that was in line to run the planned casino at Seven Springs, which never opened.

... in Atlantic City, it seems that it's gonna get worse before it gets better:

"Revenue is plunging at a record-breaking pace. Nearly 3,100 jobs have been lost in a year. And it's only going to get worse: A new slots parlor in Bethlehem, Pa., is opening next month that's sure to draw northern New Jersey customers who used to go to Atlantic City. The latest blow came Thursday when statistics from the state Casino Control Commission showed another record-setting decline in the amount of money won from gamblers in March. The 19.4 percent decline shattered the previous record of 19.2 percent that was set just a month earlier."

The only thing that may rescue Atlantic City, it seems, is legalizing sports books:

"A new poll shows state residents favor legalizing sports betting in the nation's second-largest gambling market by a more than 2-to-1 margin. The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll comes shortly after a state lawmaker, an online gambling association and others sued the U.S. Justice Department to overturn a law that restricts sports betting to only four states."

... more movement out of Ohio:

"Signature collectors should be out in earnest, seeking registered voters' support of a ballot issue allowing casinos in Ohio's four biggest cities. The Ohio attorney general signed off on the final petition-related documents last Wednesday, allowing the group to launch its signature drive."

De Scandal in De Poconos

A week ago, perjury charges against Louis DeNaples were dropped after he agreed to hand his stake in the casino over to a trust in his daughter's name. This week, his attorneys say Mr. DeNaples' suspension from state gaming activities ought to be lifted, since those charges were dropped: 

"Lawyers for Mount Airy Casino Resort have petitioned state gambling regulators to lift the suspension of owner Louis A. DeNaples' state slots license and dissolve a 14-month trusteeship at the casino. The petition cites the withdrawal of perjury charges against DeNaples by the Dauphin County District Attorney's office as the reason. DeNaples' license was suspended in February 2008 after he was charged with perjury."

Odds and ends

Expect a protracted legal battle if Connecticut tried to outlaw smoking at its Indian casinos ... In a down economy, the casinos are struggling, but the new penny slots are a big hit ... Casino revenues dropped in Detroit last month ... In Mississippi, the numbers are up month-to-month, but down year-over-year ... "A newly unemployed casino veteran launches a free website that links job-seekers to casino employment Web sites, with 5,291 jobs available in its initial posting. The website is http://www.AllCasinoJobsONLINE.com ."

... total buzzkill here, but here's yet another reminder that the house nearly always wins, and often it takes your dignity along with your money:

"Prairie Meadows has provided welcome cash for Polk County governments and Iowa charities, but it's been a bad bet for Mitch Henry. Henry, 51, of Des Moines, is a problem gambler who has lost thousands of dollars playing slot machines at the Altoona complex. During his worst days in June 2005, he would often gamble until he was broke, return home to desperately try to find more money, then drive back to Prairie Meadows and keep gambling until he had lost every dime."

... This sounds interesting:

"Casino-Free Philadelphia will put the casino industry on notice. Residents of Philadelphia and allies from around the country will cover new ground -- inside an existing, operating casino in the region -- and conduct ourselves in ways that focus the public's attention on the heart of the controversy. The event, called Beat the House, will use various tactics that can be replicated at any casino anywhere in the county, including the two casinos proposed for Philadelphia, SugarHouse and Foxwoods, whether they open here in our City or elsewhere. Working in teams, participants in this event will enter a nearby slots parlor and use a series of actions to expose the predatory practices used by the gambling trade."

So if you're visiting a casino on June 6, be sure to say hi to these fellows.

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