What we're betting on for 2007

City drew weak hand last year, but a new deck's ready to be dealt.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN for this city that 2006's highlights (and lowlights) weren't generated from City Hall, but a place 100 miles west, Harrisburg?

It's disturbing that the issues that shape, and will reshape, Philadelphia - from casinos to gun laws - were controlled by 253 lawmakers, only a small percentage of whom live here.

Does it speak to the size of the projects, or the size of the footprint that Harrisburg wants to leave on us? Does it speak to the fact that the current mayor is entering the last year of his term, or does it suggest that Ed Rendell never wanted to give up being mayor of Philadelphia?

Whatever the reason, we protest. We hope that the 2007 resolution list for our local leaders and citizens includes promises to bring some of that control back home, where it belongs.

Case in point: Casinos.

Through the original gambling bill that defines where the slots parlors will go, how they'll be regulated and who rakes in what revenue, the state has orchestrated the biggest power grab short of actually occupying City Hall.

This page has already killed many trees complaining about the flawed process, which starts with merging sites and operators, to the lack of more opportunities for public input.

At the same time, we are relieved that the decisions have been made. At least now we know what, and with whom, we're dealing.

Now, the real work begins. We applaud the way many citizens got galvanized on this issue and the energy they expended traveling to forums and hearings and making their voices heard. We think it's part of a larger appetite for public input... and we think some of our leaders recognize this too. And if there's one thing we unequivocally support, it's public engagement and input.

But now that the license decisions have favored SugarHouse and Foxwoods, we hope those local groups, and our elected leaders, will throw their energies into thinking more strategically about how to exert their influence to ensure the best outcome, rather than on appealing the state gaming board's decision or filing lawsuits with the hope of reversing either the original gambling legislation or the board's vote.

Reality check: The original legislation provides very narrow channels for appealing the board's decision. And since no group or entity legally intervened prior to the board's vote earlier this month, no one group has legal standing that the courts are likely to recognize.

Besides, the gaming board has yet to issue its written findings, which is the only source of evidence on which appeals might be based.

Lawsuits and appeals can be satisfying, even politically useful actions - as are protests and rallies - but we hope wise leaders recognize that there is a real window of opportunity for influencing the outcome on how casinos arrive in the city.

The window is now wide open to work with the gaming board to create conditions it can impose on casino operators before actually issuing licenses, ranging from design standards to creating a special-services district. Any group can take this on; a logical player would be the Central Delaware Waterfront Planning process.

It's the home team's turn at bat - let's hope someone steps up.