By Kellie Patrick
Any casinos built in Philadelphia should be restricted to areas far from schools, places of worship, playgrounds and residential areas, said the vast majority of those who cast votes in a mock referendum sponsored by anti-casino activists.
Casino-Free Philadelphia organized the “citizens’ election” after the State Supreme Court handed down a temporary injunction banning the same language from the official primary ballot. Volunteers staffed 39 bright red ballot boxes in what was called Philly’s Ballot Box. Votes were also taken by phone and on-line.
Monday afternoon in Casino-Free Philadelphia’s informal headquarters on North 2nd Street, spokesman Daniel Hunter announced the results: 12,592 voted in favor of the casino site restriction and 727 voted against it.
“If this question was on the (official) ballot, it would have passed by a landslide,” Hunter said, to a loud round of applause from the volunteers who gathered for the announcement.
But not everyone is impressed.
The number of votes cast in the Philly’s ballot box election is tiny compared to the number cast in Philadelphia’s official poll that day – nearly 300,000 - said SugarHouse Casino Spokesman John Miller.
“They’ve gotten a lot of attention for getting a few people riled up, but they clearly don’t have a majority,” he said.
Hunter said while those who voted do not make up an actual majority, they are a representative sample.
Most of the ballot boxes were placed outside of regular polling places. Hunter said that at those 57 polls, 68 percent of those who voted in the regular election also cast a ballot in one of Casino-Free Philadelphia’s red boxes.
Stickers saying “removed by court order” were taped over the question on the official ballot. But some people cast votes there anyway – either because they could see through the stickers or because someone forgot to apply the sticker at their polling place. Those votes also supported the referendum, with 835 cast for it and 359 against.
Foxwoods Casino’s Jeff Rotwitt questioned the reliability of Casino-Free Philadelphia’s ballot box results.
“There’s no scientific nature to what’s being done,” he said. “It is inherently unreliable.”
Hunter and other members of his team said all votes cast were checked against the city’s registered voter rolls to ensure that only those cast by qualified voters were counted: Votes cast by paper ballot and telephone were checked by volunteers. For those who voted on-line, the computerized system would only allow a vote to be cast if the voter was on the city’s list.
SugarHouse’s Miller said the results also should have no weight because the State Supreme Court said there should not be a referendum on the issue.
But Hunter has said that while the vote is not legally binding, he hopes it will be “politically binding”. And City Councilman Frank DiCicco, whose district contains the proposed sites of the both the SugarHouse and Foxwoods casinos, has submitted legislation that would create a city ordinance containing the same language. DiCicco, who attended the press conference, said he would push for the legislation now that the votes are in.
Hunter said the next step is taking these results to state leaders.
The ballot box effort has caught their attention, DiCicco said. “One thing this has accomplished, they now know people care about this issue.”