Beware the 700-level effect, SugarHouse


Can a casino be plagued by what used to be known at Veterans Stadium as the 700-level

That’s where the rowdy behavior of fans in the cheap seats at the Vet drove away families and other patrons, who got weary of listening to expletive-laced harangues or witnessing beer-fueled fistfights. Pretty soon, only the rowdies were showing up – surrounded by hundreds of empty seats.

That lesson should be on the minds of SugarHouse Casino operators, as they cope with the public relations fall-out from the latest mugging of patrons at the riverfront gaming hall.

Early Friday, three women didn’t even make it into the casino before they were accosted by two armed and masked men. The muggers struck one woman in the head with a pistol, and grabbed two purses before fleeing in a stolen car, police said. The injured woman wound up at Episcopal Hospital emergency room with a head wound – hardly the evening of ‘pure fun’ that the SugarHouse slogan promises.

This wasn’t a case where patrons were jumped for their winnings, as happened a month ago after a man won $1,500 and was pistol whipped when he returned to his South Jersey home by would-be robbers. In that sense, the Friday robbery was even more troubling.

Maybe valet parking will become the arrival method of choice for safety conscious patrons. Or maybe they’ll just stay away?

There’s no longer any question that the arrival of casino gambling in Philadelphia is viewed by thugs as providing fertile ground for their criminal activities. As if that was ever in doubt in a big city, right?

That’s the legacy of casino gambling that won’t ever be fully acknowledged by Gov. Rendell or the state lawmakers who ushered in this supposed windfall for the state. When they write their political biographies, casinos no doubt will be hailed solely for the rivers of tax revenues they’re producing for the moment – not the social pathologies they helped fuel.

As for SugarHouse, it cannot be good for business if the casino develops a reputation as a place where patrons are fleeced even before they belly up to a slot machine.