To hear some casino opponents tell it, bringing gambling to Philadelphia is evil, corrupt, possibly even fattening.
They tell us the casinos won't make any money for the city. That locations selected will destroy adjoining neighborhoods. That the deal, which will bring two slots-only casinos to the city, was a conspiracy involving big-money interests and corrupt pols, who trampled on the rights of the people.
Now that the opponents have lost their bid to stop the casinos in the courts, they feel it is right to take to the streets. Invoking the names of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, they are planning to lie down in front of the bulldozers to stop the evil now.
"Casinos = Corruption" is the slogan of Casino-Free Philadelphia - and woe betide anyone who says otherwise.
Well, I am here to say otherwise.
This is nuts. As in crazy. As in wrong.
Casinos won't ruin Philadelphia. They won't even ruin the waterfront.
They will bring thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars into the city. They will result in the largest single tax cut in the city's history, reducing the dreaded wage tax to below - maybe well below - 4 percent.
As Mayor Street's (prescient, but generally ignored) task force on casinos put it in its report last year:
"Annual gambling revenues over $700 million and corresponding consumer and casino spending will change the City's economy. . . . Thousands of jobs will be created in and around casinos. Tax receipts will increase by millions of dollars. And wage taxes will be reduced. . . . In fact, no industry this large has come to Philadelphia in a planned way since the expansion of the Navy Yard during World War II."
In short, casinos do not equal corruption. Casinos equal the future for this city.
I wish it weren't so.
If we were to get a new $700-million-a-year business in the city, I wish it
make ships or steel, railroad cars or saws, hats or men's suits or maybe even locomotives.
Alas, this is not the 19th century, when all of those businesses
start up Philly. They are gone and - hold on for a sad surprise - they are not coming back.
This is the 21st century. The city has staked its future on the service economy and on tourism. And casinos are service industries that draw tourists. They also make huge profits, more than half of which will go to the state, which has, in effect, set itself up as a controlling partner in this new industry.
As a state-regulated industry, the casinos were given favored-nation status by the legislature. One thing lawmakers did was to insist on state control (via a newly created gaming control board) over where the casinos would go.
That commission picked the two sites in Philadelphia, after a round of hearings. In fact, it picked all the sites in the state. The commissioners were primarily driven by pro-gaming considerations: They wanted sites that would, in their eyes, bring in the most gamblers. And the riverfront is exactly such a place.
Casino opponents say the state usurped local decision-makers - City Council and the zoning board - in choosing these sites. True. The state did. The casinos are an example of a periodic phenomenon whereby the city discovers - much to its surprise - that it is not a sovereign entity (à la Monaco or Luxembourg) but is subordinate to the power of the state.
Opponents further argue that citizens had no voice in the decision to create casinos, or in the choice of their location. Hence, the process violates the principles of democracy. That is untrue.
The gambling bill - which was passed in July 2004 - was debated extensively in the state legislature. And the city has representatives and senators in the legislature elected by the citizens of Philadelphia. And all of them voted for the bill.
Some of those elected officials are now crying foul. They never knew, they say, that the casinos would be put in bad locations (i.e., in their constituents' neighborhoods) along the waterfront.
They must have missed the last 15 years of conversations about gambling in Philly, where the waterfront was always considered the prime location.
State Rep. Babette Josephs, for instance, is now seeking to emerge as a Joan of Arc of the anti-casino forces, talking about how the process she created with her "yes" vote is all wrong.
As Josephs said recently: "I approve the use of casino-generated gambling funds to help reduce the Philadelphia wage tax and property tax in the rest of the state. But I will not allow that to happen on the backs of the citizens of Philadelphia who have kept their neighborhoods clean and wholesome."
In sum, Josephs wants all of the benefits casinos will bring, without actually having any casinos.
Or, perhaps, she wants them put in neighborhoods that are not clean and wholesome. Or, possibly, she has a plan to have them float above the city, held up by dirigibles.
Like I said, crazy.
As to the claim that casinos will destroy adjoining neighborhoods, I doubt it. When those neighborhoods were built, they were set cheek by jowl with an overcrowded waterfront, filled to the brim with all sorts of traffic, bustle and hustle. In fact, it's only been in recent years that we have had an underused (read: mostly empty) riverfront. They will survive.
One other note: to casino opponents. That line about floating casinos in the air on dirigibles. That's a joke. Don't propose it as an alternative site.