By John Davidson
Casino-Free Philadelphia's plan was simple: at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, protestors filtered into Harrah's Casino & Racetrack in Chester in groups of two or three. They put cash or credit into slot machines and just sat there. No one pulled the lever.
Then, at 2:30 p.m. sharp, the approximately 80 protestors scattered throughout the massive slots parlor took off their outer shirts to reveal white T-shirts that read, in bold red letters, "You won't prey on us."
One member of Casino-Free, 26-year-old Zachariah Dorey-Stein from West Philadelphia, said he was taking part because he'd seen how casinos had affected New Orleans, the hometown of his girlfriend Elizabeth, who occupied a slot machine next to him on Harrah's floor Saturday.
"They brought in a lot of hidden costs, and the residents are paying the price," he said. "Something like this in Philadelphia is not going to benefit our citizens."
Within minutes, casino officials began telling protestors that if they were not going to play, they needed to cash out and leave.
Officials also asked members of the media to leave, and declined to comment on the protest.
As protestors were expelled from Harrah's they joined other members of Casino-Free in a demonstration across the street.
Although the protest took place in Chester, Casino-Free's efforts have thus far focused on opposing the establishment of Foxwoods and SugarHouse casinos in the City of Philadelphia. The Chester protest, according to Helen Gym of Asian Americans United, a group opposing Foxwoods' bid to relocate to Chinatown, was a way to highlight the effects of casinos on communities.
"We don't think it's easy to understand, abstractly, what casinos do and what they look like and the overall impact," she said. "This is an important place; here's a casino in a city that doesn't have a supermarket."