Suburban residents raised hardly a peep of protest yesterday as the state Gaming Control Board held a hearing on a proposal to place 500 slot machines at the Valley Forge Convention Center.
It was quite a contrast to the rabid neighborhood opposition that has greeted efforts to build two slot parlors along the waterfront in Philadelphia.
Upper Merion Township, which hopes to gain about $1.4 million a year in tax revenue from the slots, gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to an application by the Valley Forge center to turn some of its existing trade-show exhibit space into a gambling hall.
"We are optimistic that the owners have a very well thought out plan that will make this location a vibrant, successful business . . . while minimizing the impact on residents," township Supervisor Edward McBride told the board at the Dolce Valley Forge Hotel on Route 202.
Frank Freudberg, a writer and only township resident to speak against the proposal, said that slot machines would be "a degradation" to the "quality of life" in the area, 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia at the juncture of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Schuylkill Expressway.
Speaking of the $1.4 million, he called it "more like a tip rather than a fee." The township has a $26.8 million annual operating budget.
The only other opposition came from Bob Green, of Greenwood Racing, which operates a much bigger slots casino at the Philadelphia Park horse-racing track in lower Bucks County.
Green essentially raised a competitiveness issue.
He contended that the 2004 state law permitting up to 14 slots casinos in Pennsylvania did not envision more than the four already planned for the Philadelphia area, which include the two proposed in the city, plus Harrah's, in Chester, and Philadelphia Park, in Bensalem.
"Our business comes from an immediate 25-mile radius," Green told a reporter after the hearing. "So this will impact our immediate core business."
Philadelphia Park and the others are permitted to operate up to 3,500 slot machines each.
The Valley Forge Convention Center is vying for one of two licenses that are expressly intended to give a boost to Pennsylvania resorts by permitting them to operate up to 500 slot machines. To be eligible to gamble, patrons would have to spend at least $10 on other resort amenities, such as hotel rooms, meals and golf outings.
The convention center, which has two existing hotels and several restaurants, is competing for a license against two resorts in the Poconos: Split Rock Lodge in Lake Harmony, Pa., and Fernwood Hotel & Resort in Bushkill, Pa.
The gaming board will likely make its decision this fall.
Real estate developer Ira Lubert, who heads a partnership that bought the Valley Forge Convention Center from bankruptcy in 1994, said the slots parlor should generate about $60 million in gross revenue during its first full year of operation.
The state would get about $30 million of that, while Upper Merion and Montgomery County would each get $1.4 million.
He said the project would generate 850 construction jobs, followed by 150 permanent jobs paying a collective $13 million in annual wages.
He said the slots parlor could also generate another $300 million for the community by drawing people to the area - to the King of Prussia mall, to restaurants, to other hotels.
Noting that the buildings, the parking lots and the traffic routes for the slots parlor already exist, Lubert said: "We believe there is limited impact on neighboring communities."