Philadelphia City Council voted unanimously Thursday to bar video gaming terminals, as well as a satellite or mini-casino, in the city.
Twelve Council members cosponsored legislation and were joined by five others in a unanimous vote to tell the state "no" to awarding gaming terminal licenses in truck stops, and a "Category 4" casino license with up to 750 slot machines and 40 table games in city neighborhoods.
A sweeping expansion of casino gambling in Pennsylvania that recently became law would allow up to five gaming terminals in truck stops, and 10 new satellite or mini-casinos across the state to help balance the state's budget deficit.
"We sent a strong message. It is dangerous to even think about this type of gaming expansion into our neighborhoods," said Councilman Bobby Henon, who introduced the resolutions. "It's a truck stop today, but it could be stop-and-gos and bars tomorrow. It's like inviting a vampire into our home and getting bitten.
"A city with 26 percent poverty, 12 percent deep poverty, we cannot afford to take that kind of risk," Henon said after the vote. "It would destroy the social fabric of the citizenry."
Opting out of more gambling will also help business in existing casinos, said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. "It's enough to have SugarHouse and the casino that's coming at 11th Street and Packer Avenue," he said. "It's better to focus on the casinos that we have."
The city receives $4 million annually in gaming revenue for its general fund, and $4 million a year that goes to the Philadelphia School District, plus additional money to help reduce the city's wage tax, Henon said. "More revenue will be on line with the second casino."
Besides Philadelphia's one casino, SugarHouse, on Delaware Avenue, a second casino license has been granted for Live! Casino & Hotel in South Philadelphia. There's also Harrah's Philadelphia in Chester, Parx Casino in Bensalem, and Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia.
Communities have until Dec. 29 to tell the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board that they want to "opt out." As of Dec. 11, 404 municipalities out of more than 2,500 statewide had said no, effectively barring the facilities, according to a list on the Gaming Control Board website, which is updated weekly.
The gaming board on Wednesday announced an auction schedule to start Jan. 10 for submission of sealed bids to be considered for a slot-machine license. State law stipulates that a mini-casino cannot be built within 25 miles of a competitor's casino.
Philadelphia does not currently have truck stops that would qualify – diesel islands for fueling, 50,000 gallons of diesel or biodiesel fuel sold every month, a convenience store situated on at least three acres, and parking spaces for 20 commercial vehicles. Council's concern is that a gas station could be built out, or the required acreage found. Or, the state could permit video gaming terminals in stop-and-go establishments, or corner bars.