By Kellie Patrick Gates
On the eve of the fourth anniversary of legislation that brought casinos to Pennsylvania, Philadelphia's legislators had a message for Foxwoods and SugarHouse: Move willingly from the waterfront and we'll help you. Fight us, and we'll make you move.
Sen. Vince Fumo and Rep. Dwight Evans are leading the charge, but had many other members of the city's delegation with them when they announced a unified effort at a 9 p.m., July 3 press conference.
In a letter to Mayor Michael Nutter and Governor Ed Rendell, Fumo and Evans called for a casino relocation meeting with the mayor, the governor, the Philadelphia delegation and the principals of both Foxwoods and SugarHouse.
"The two proposed sites are no longer viable, and any future delays caused by continued attempts to embrace them will adversely impact the casino licensees' and developers' bottom line," Fumo and Evans wrote in their letter.
"We are willing to assist in finding new locations that will allow the commencement of gaming operations as soon as possible. As Pennsylvania officials who designed and approved the gaming act in an effort to provide tax relief, we have an interest in their success. We are dedicated, however, to making this new industry an asset to all of Philadelphia, rather than a detriment to the City's waterfront and the vibrant local neighborhoods in close proximity.
We ask your help in setting up a meeting with the casino licensees at your earliest convenience so that we may begin this process in earnest."
At the press conference, Fumo said the entire Philadelphia delegation - including those who do not represent the riverfront neighborhoods - are now united in the fight against the currently proposed sites. From that unity comes new power in the on-going casino battle, he said. And, Fumo said, Rendell is now paying attention.
"While Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia remains committed to the site that was approved by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and upheld by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, we would welcome a meeting to discuss and resolve this issue so that we can move forward in bringing jobs and tax revenues to the residents of Pennsylvania," said Foxwoods spokeswoman Maureen Garrity. "We are happy to meet with anyone at any time to discuss why our site is the best site and resiting is not an option," said SugarHouse spokeswoman Leigh Whitaker.
If the casinos don't cooperate willingly, the delegation will do what it can to force them. The delegation will ask the state gaming control board to revoke their licenses, he said. And it will pursue other legislative actions to force a move.
"We've been throwing spitballs," he said. "We will now start throwing atom bombs."
Under state gaming law, the casinos are to be open within one year of getting their operating licenses - that year is up in February for SugarHouse and in May for Foxwoods. This is when the delegation would petition the gaming control board so that the board would not take some action resulting in more time for the casinos.
So far, both Foxwoods and SugarHouse have pledged to stay put despite legal battles, residents' protests and the wishes of the riverfront legislators and Mayor Nutter.
And it would take more than just the Philadelphia delegation to pass any piece of legislation. But Rep. Mike O'Brien - who was at the press conference - said the Philadelphia team has enough members to persuade their counterparts across the state to vote with them.
Legislators and their constituents from other parts of the state don't care where the Philadelphia casinos are located, O'Brien said. They just want them to open so their revenues can provide tax relief. The quickest way for them to open, he said, is for them to move away from locations that have met much opposition.
"After the two year struggle against the current location of the casinos, today the logjam finally broke," O'Brien said. "There is now the political will to do this."