Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Does it make sense to put a casino in Norristown along its riverfront or someplace else in Montgomery County? Does it make sense to put a casino someplace in Chester County? These are hitherto unasked questions that may be of relevance in the years ahead.State legislation has given the City of Philadelphia two stand-alone casino licenses. The mayoral administrations of Ed Rendell and John Street both lobbied for these licenses, as did the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, and the Philadelphia Hotel Association. Many thousands of temporary construction jobs and long-term casino operation jobs were promised to the city as a result. So was city revenues from gambling proceeds (4% of all money bet) and wage taxes from the jobs as well as business taxes from the casinos themselves.Now the Philadelphia City Council, acting unanimously, has three times voted for legislation impeding casino development. A public opinion poll has shown a slight plurality of Philadelphians think the casinos are more trouble than they they are worth.I suspect that a referendum on the casinos would produce a majority for them, because such a referendum would produce heavy pro-casino advertising and mobilization. But, however a referendum would turn out, it is clear that many Philadelphians are worried about the negative effects--traffic congestion, extra alcohol consumption, competition with other businesses, taking of relatively limited (although now underutilized) waterfront space--that are believed to go with casinos.The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its citizens have an economic stake in casino development as a revenue raising tool to reduce property taxes and the city of Philadelphia's wage tax. Philadelphia appears to be a good location for casinos because of its population and its accessibility to the Philadelphia and New Jersey suburbs and I-95.But Philadelphia is not the only option. The casinos located in Bucks and Delaware counties have been doing business at a level far in excess of projections, and do not appear to have generated significant local controversy. Surburban households, generally on an individual basis and in the aggregate, have significantly more disposable income than do Philadelphia households.And the fact is that the racetrack at Philadelphia Park in Bucks County long outlasted the racetrack at Liberty Bell Park in Northeast Philadelphia, which is now the site of the Franklin Mills shopping center, one of Pennsylvania's premier shopping locations.The Philadelphia suburbs continue to gain in population, while the City of Philadelphia continues to lose population as household size shrinks despite the creation of new middle class and upper middle class housing.Philadelphia is the smallest geographically of all Pennsylvania counties. Space considerations in Philadelphia are of less importance in other areas of Pennsylvania.So I think suburban alternatives are worth considering. Such consideration may lead Philadelphians to re-assert their desire for casinos, just as Philadelphia's eagerness to have the Barnes Museum has led to a re-evaluation of Lower Merion's complaints about traffic congestion there and anguished local pleas that Philadelphia is stealing its artistic treasures.Or, conversely, such consideration may lead to a consensus that suburban locations are indeed better for casinos in Pennsylvania than urban locations, and that placing casinos there is in the interest of the suburbs as well as in the interest of Philadelphia itself.

April 25, 2007



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