WHEN the state Gaming Control Board revoked the casino license for Foxwoods in 2010, we didn't breathe a full sigh of relief, since we figured, like a bad penny, the license for yet another casino in the state wasn't going to go completely away. Sure enough, the Legislature is now moving toward putting the license up for bid — to any and all comers in the state. That means it's no sure bet that Philadelphia will have a second casino.
Although many in the city — including us — wouldn't consider that a heartbreak, we are concerned that this decision to flout the original 2004 state gaming law that mandated two casinos in the city has no basis other than purely political.
Casinos benefit the host municipality in job creation, fees and other economic activity. This means that if a license is granted outside Philadelphia, the city will take an economic hit.
And yet, there may be better locales for a casino than Philadelphia. We just wonder how the state gaming board will arrive at their ultimate decision. Bidders for the Foxwoods license will have to promise certain revenue levels, and prove they can generate traffic and be compatible with its host community. At the end of the day, we won't know exactly what tips the board to declare a winning bidder. If the original licensing process is any indication, outside input won't matter much. The community resistance to Philadelphia casinos was intense, after all, and many reviled the board's decision to put two casinos on the Delaware waterfront. (To be fair, one upside was increased attention to the need for better planning of the waterfront.)
There is a third option, though, that we hope the Legislature considers: Don't grant the Foxwoods license to any operator. Casino revenues continue to grow, but with nearby states about to introduce their own casinos, we have to be nearing a saturation point — one more could be the tipping point for the state's casinos, wherever the new one might be located. Already, the Philadelphia -area casinos — Chester, Philadelphia, Valley Forge and Bensalem, which is the state's highest gross-revenue generator — have devastated New Jersey's casinos. A new Pennsylvania casino could cannibalize the performance of other state casinos.
There's another thing the Legislature should consider: Now that eight years have passed since the original gaming legislation, isn't it time to do an objective analysis of the social and economic impact on the state and on individual municipalities? The state treasurer's office recently issued a gaming market assessment, but so far no impact analysis has been done. The Legislature would do well to commission such a study. There is nothing to gain by rushing into granting the license for one more casino, especially not without clear and objective data.
Finally, the undeniable success of the state's casinos means it's time to assess the share going to the horse-race industry; saving this state industry was the focus of the original gaming legislation. So far, horse-racing has gotten nearly $1 billion in proceeds, but there is little accounting as to how this money has been spent, or what the outcome has been.
Lawmakers should take their time with this casino license, and consider the possibility that the best thing to do with it is put it on a shelf and forget about it. n