How mayor candidates would use casino revenue

A YEAR AGO, Mayor Street told the state Gaming Control Board that building two casinos here "represents perhaps the most important new development in Philadelphia in 50 years."

But the candidates running to replace Street aren't spending much time talking about the casinos, even as they have become a hot topic after anti-gaming activists and neighborhood groups were outraged at their proposed riverfront locations.

A Daily News survey of the five major Democratic candidates for mayor and the lone Republican candidate shows varying opinions on the value of casinos and the millions in tax revenue they're expected to generate.

All of the candidates said they supported a referendum asking voters if they want to ban casinos from being built within 1,500 feet of homes, schools, churches, parks and other public spaces.

The state Supreme Court last week issued a preliminary injunction, booting the question from the May 15 ballot until legal arguments can be made by referendum supporters and opponents.

_ Bob Brady says he supports the jobs and financial benefits the casinos are expected to bring, but doesn't think the process should be "jammed down the throats" of the people living near them, spokeswoman Kate Philips said.

Brady's policy proposals are not directly based on money the city anticipates receiving in gaming taxes but he plans to see that it is "spent wisely," she added.

_ Dwight Evans cast a vote in the state legislature in 2004 to approve casinos across the state and still supports them because they will increase resources for the school district here and provide wage tax relief for city residents, spokesman Tim Spreitzer said.

Evans' public safety plan would use gaming taxes to help pay for 500 new police officers and he plans to use the money to help modernize school buildings and computer equipment.

_ Chaka Fattah voted against allowing casinos to open in Pennsylvania while serving in the General Assembly but sees them as a "fait accompli at the moment."

Fattah said his plans to reduce the city's wage tax and build "smart classrooms" enhanced with technology would be funded with gaming taxes.

_ Tom Knox opposes building casinos in Philadelphia and says the city's voice "has been frozen out" of the decisions on locations.

Still, Knox plans to use gaming taxes to support a treatment fund to help develop solutions for people with addiction problems.

_ Michael Nutter does not support casinos in Philadelphia, labeling them "a state decision."

Nutter questions gambling as an economic development tool and whether any financial benefits are outweighed by long-term costs. He calls the process by which the casinos were approved, "flawed and inappropriate."

_ Republican Al Taubenberger said he is "not excited about casinos" but allows that there may be a place in the city for one or two. He does not support the two riverfront locations or the selection process.

Taubenberger has not put forth any policy proposals. "At this moment, I have no concrete plans in any way to use casino revenue for anything," he said.

A Daily News Keystone poll released this month found registered Democrats in the city split on the casino issue, with 45 percent thinking they would have a positive impact, 47 percent saying the impact would be negative and 8 percent unsure.

Voters also were split on the proposed casino locations - 49 percent disapproved of the SugarHouse Casino in Fishtown and 50 percent disapproved of the Foxwoods Casino in South Philly.

The casino referendum - if the Supreme Court decides to allow it back on the ballot - could drive up voter turn-out in the river wards, where emotion and concern is running high on the issue.

Anthony Palmiere, the Democratic leader of South Philly's 2nd Ward, said riverfront voters are already very tuned in to the election for big ticket races and even more so because of the casinos

"You have people that definitely want it," he said. "You have people who question how it's going to affect them. And then there are people who don't want it."

Vince Fenerty, the Republican leader of the 18th and 31st wards covering parts of Fishtown, Port Richmond and Kensington, has also seen split opinions.

"I have committee people in both of the wards that I can only describe as very spirited on the issue," Fenerty said. *