Pennsylvania officials continue to stumble along the road to full-blown casino gambling, while still saddling Philadelphia with a planned slots parlor that’s wrong for its site along the Delaware River. Now the backers of the long-delayed waterfront facility are trying to use the state’s delay in approving table games as their latest way to buy more time.
Foxwoods Casino officials say they need a three-month extension on the just-passed Dec. 1 deadline to produce a concrete design. Why? They need to figure in the still-uncertain impact of table games on their construction and financial plans. It’s a lame excuse. Casinos already operating have contingency plans for blackjack and the like.
The question is whether the state Gaming Control Board will cave on its earlier pledge to get tough. In August, lawyers for the board talked about moving to yank Foxwoods’ license if it blew the deadline. Well?
Foxwoods has fallen far behind the city’s other planned slots parlor — the SugarHouse Casino on the northern expanse of waterfront near Girard Avenue. Foxwoods also would bring a wretched big-box design to traffic-clogged Columbus Boulevard.
Mayor Nutter has called it “wrong for Philadelphia,” and four state lawmakers on Wednesday called for pulling the license. They’re right. But when it comes to the unrelenting push to expand gambling in Pennsylvania, there’s always a second and third bite of the apple, with casino operators given the benefit of the doubt.
For instance, one legislative proposal on table games included a clause that would give Foxwoods an extra year to get up and running. That would scrap the city’s hopes of moving the casino license to a more suitable site.
In fact, two months after the state’s outrageous 101-day budget impasse was resolved — in part, with a pledge to raise $200 million by adding table games to slots casinos — the deck is still being shuffled in Harrisburg.
Legislative leaders say they’re close to a deal on table games, but the drawn-out and typically behind-the-scenes process hasn’t exactly inspired confidence.
What seemed like the major stumbling blocks — picking the percentage that the state would rake off the top of gaming revenues, plus setting the license fees — have taken a backseat.
Now, the discussions have veered off to include an expansion of licenses for the 500-machine resort casinos, originally limited to two. As many as five of these smaller slots parlors could be permitted to operate under the latest proposals. And they could be expanded to have as many as 1,500 machines, with table games thrown in for good measure.
As a consolation to casino opponents made nervous by the inevitable negative social impacts of gambling, the table-games legislation at least includes various reform measures. Their aim is to insulate casinos from politics and criminal influence, and strengthen ethical safeguards — areas where the original 2004 slots gambling law fell woefully short. But the topic of reform sure seems like an afterthought.
From the start of the push for slots, state officials have seemed to make it up as they went along — with predictable stumbles. Like awarding licenses to two convicted felons, and failing to stop the floodgates of campaign contributions from gambling interests.
The latest expansion of gambling and the bid by Foxwoods to gain further delays is more of the same: Their patrons may run through the mortgage money, but casinos always seem to get another roll of the dice.