A Philadelphia Story

Written by Bill Toland on .

It's been 27 months since the state approved the construction of two casinos in Philadelphia, and barely a shovel has been turned. What the heck is taking so long?

"A Pennsylvania lawmaker plans to introduce legislation as early as Monday to strip Philadelphia of up to $64 million annually in economic development funds for failing to have its two casinos up and running. Twenty-seven months of delays on the city's proposed SugarHouse and Foxwoods casinos have left some lawmakers across the state upset that Philadelphia is benefiting unfairly from slots revenue without contributing to the pot ... Mayor Nutter said he was hopeful the bill wouldn't be necessary. At a March 13 City Hall news conference, Nutter said there were 'no barriers' to the construction of two casinos at their desired locations."

Right. No barriers at all, unless you count the noisome community opposition and the crippling worldwide recession.

... More from Philly, via the state Supreme Court:

"Responding to calls for help from the developers of the SugarHouse casino, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court yesterday appointed a special master to mediate disputes with Philadelphia officials. In a petition in January, the investment group had accused Mayor Nutter and his administration of holding up construction of the waterfront slots parlor. The Supreme Court named John W. Herron, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge since 1988, as special master. It also ordered the city to immediately issue a foundation permit 'without condition.'"

Dispatches from the Capitol

From our old pal (and Pitt fan) Rich Fellinger:

"Just across the river from Harrisburg, with a view of the state's capital city, sits Tavern on the Hill. It's a seafood and steakhouse restaurant that claims one of the most prestigious wine lists in the entire state. The chargrilled lamb chops, seasoned with herbes de provence, goes for $29.95, while the filet mignon, served with a mushroom bordelaise sauce, goes for $31.95. On Dec. 17, members of the state Gaming Control Board had a big dinner there, and they dropped $821, records show. It was the second time last year that gaming board members dined at Tavern on the Hill -- two board members had a business dinner there in February and spent $189 ...The restaurant bills are among more than $135,000 in travel and meal expenses that the seven gaming board members rang up in 2008, according to state records."

You know, compared to The Capital Grille on Fifth Avenue, $32 for a steak is downright reasonable.

Dispatches from the border

The slots scene from Delaware:

"Gov. Jack Markell says Delaware's three racinos would profit - not lose money - if his plan to add more casinos, allow sports betting and hike the state's share of gambling revenues goes through. That's not how racino operators read the numbers. In a news conference Tuesday at Dover Downs, state gambling industry executives said the Markell plan would dilute a market already crowded by competition ... Markell last week proposed allowing three new casinos; allowing sports betting at existing casinos, the new ones and 10 other sites such as bars and restaurants; and increasing the state's share of casino and racetrack revenue."

... What did Dela Wear? A New Jersey:

"Owner-breeder Michael J. Gulotta told a panel of state senators that slots in New Jersey's racetracks will be a winner for the state's budget as well as horsemen ... More than two dozen horsemen came out to support the testimony of Mike Gulotta. 'The introduction of racinos will add thousands of jobs in the state -- a win for the people of New Jersey. The introduction of racinos run by the operators of Atlantic City casinos will provide those entities with the opportunity to diversify their sources of revenue.' Gulotta told the senators that he thought that racinos in New Jersey would yield more than $1 billion in annual tax revenues."

There's that magical billion-dollar number again.

... Might as well tackle Ohio while we're at it:

"The Ohio State Racing Commission has unanimously voted in favor of a proposal to allow video slot machines at seven racetracks. Thursday's vote sends a recommendation to lawmakers asking them to approve the plan, which the commission says would create 150 new state employee jobs and bring in $1.3 billion for the state by 2013. About $625 million of that would go into a fund for primary and secondary schools. Track owners have said they want the Legislature to legalize slot machines, saying they need other sources of revenue to raise purse levels to those offered in neighboring states that have slots," reports the Associated Press.

... The video slots are a separate issue from the actual casinos that have been proposed for Ohio:

"When Pennsylvania lawmakers opened the door to gambling in their state in 2004, they drove a hard bargain: Casinos would have to hand over 55 percent of their profits to the government. Four years later, when the governor of Maryland got behind a proposal for slot machines in his state, he turned the screw even tighter: a 67 percent tax on gambling profits. Now, however, the promoters of a proposed ballot measure for gambling in Ohio are suggesting a tax rate that seems downright modest in comparison. If voters approve casinos in Columbus' Arena District, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo, each would be taxed at a rate of 33 percent."

Here's a helpful graphic from the Columbus Dispatch.

... Heck, we'll toss in an update from Indiana, free of charge:

"When Penn National Gaming this summer opens its $326 million expansion at Lawrenceburg, it will be celebrated for the 125 contractors it employed during construction. And the glitzy trappings of the Vegas-scale gaming parlor, with its 300 plasma screens and 60-foot video board. But few will recognize the new Lawrence­burg casino for what it really is: an act of self-defense. ... The 270,000-square-foot expansion and its Hollywood rebranding will be part of a larger attempt by Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National to lay down roots in Cincinnati. [The casino] wants to reclaim customers lost to two new horse-track casinos in Indianapolis and prevent encroachment by developers who have staked claims to potential casino sites from Louisville to Wilmington."

The MeadowsOdds and ends

The new and improved Meadows casino in Washington County will open April 15 ... Big fire at the Empress Casino in Illinois ... Tropicana hopes to regain control of its Atlantic City casino ... More bad news for Detroit: The Greektown Casino is in default ...

Should casino executives be allowed to run for office in Atlantic City? The answer used to be no -- that way, casino bosses and political bosses couldn't be one and the same. But now?

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em:

"Gov. Jon Corzine has signed a new law that will allow for casino workers to run for City Council in Atlantic City. The law ends a decades-long ban on casino workers holding public office. The original law was put in effect to ensure that the casino industry did not have a controlling hand in government. The plan has backfired, however, in recent years with corruption running rampant in city government ... The power that casinos already possess has been shown in a recent smoking ban for Atlantic City. Once the ban was in place, casino owners raised concerns about how the ban would effect business, and the city quickly eliminated the ban for casinos."

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