Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

What the Foxwoods decision means

A DN editorial:

What the Foxwoods decision means

A DN editorial:

First Cliff Lee. Now this.

The Gaming Control Board delivered happiness to many yesterday by revoking the license for the Foxwoods casino.

Among the happiest? Count among them lawyer Richard Sprague, developer Dan Keating III, and Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm.

They're partners in the SugarHouse casino - literally the only casino in town, probably for a long, long time.

But count thousands more in the happy group: for example, the neighborhood residents and advocates that protested loud and long against Foxwoods and its site, from the moment the license was granted in 2006.

We're not exactly heartbroken, either.

The casino chapter in this state has often been an ugly tale - from the midnight passage of the original bill legalizing gaming, to the mandate for the city to house two slots parlors (as two of 14 mandated throughout the state), to the very bad strategy for a state-based board to be making decisions with severe impacts on towns and cities all around the state. The affront to Philadelphia in the board's decision was to approve two licenses for Philadelphia's waterfront, overriding local zoning, planning and community concerns.

Into this star-crossed mess entered the partnership of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe with local players Lewis Katz, developer Ron Rubin and Comcast-Specator chairman Ed Snider. And amid increasingly vocal protests from community groups over a site that was both small and disruptive to neighborhoods, the tribe, which operates two casinos in Connecticut, began struggling financially when the economy tanked.

Because of these struggles, Foxwoods' game kept changing, with attempts at a site switch and new potential partners. None panned out, and the gaming board wasn't satisfied that the latest financing was stable enough to continue.

This is the first license the state has revoked, and it's unclear what will happen next: whether a new license will be granted, or when, or by what process.

Our advice to the board, and to incoming governor Tom Corbett: Leave well enough alone, and don't force a second casino here. Imposing unpopular venues with no clean or fair process for having the city be part of the decision is a bad plan.

That's, of course, using purely civic logic.

Given the financial performance of the state's gaming venues, we doubt that civic concerns will be much of a factor in the city's gaming future.

Consider: According to gaming board statements, last month, the state collected $3.28 million a day in tax revenues from 10 operating casinos, all of which generated over $180 million in gross revenues in November alone.

Yesterday, Mayor Nutter expressed concern over the loss of the Foxwoods license since the decision means lost revenue for the city. By 2013, the city was supposed to get over $30 million from two venues here.

The city should look toward more stable ways to balance its budget. Gaming is too often an easy money fix for governments, but the long-term costs to people and communities are too high.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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