State lawmakers have been quick to deal the two casinos on the Delaware River waterfront nothing but aces. But after one cold hand in Harrisburg, gambling executives turned to the city for a wild card.
It's unfortunate that Mayor Street's aides, with eager backing from Gov. Rendell, appear willing to deal what is looking more and more like a rigged game.
In this case, SugarHouse - stymied so far in getting city approvals to build at its Fishtown site - wants the city Commerce Department to do an end run around the state process for awarding development rights to state-owned property.
The casino needs permission to build on 11 acres of land submerged on the waterfront, permission normally secured only with the approval of the Pennsylvania Legislature.
Having failed to convince either of two state lawmakers who represent the area to introduce bills in Harrisburg for the rights to the waterfront property, lawyers for SugarHouse think they've found a loophole. They cite a city law that says the mayor has the authority to let the casino build over the river. On that, Commerce Director Stephanie Naidoff will make a recommendation to Street soon.
Given vying legal opinions on this question, it's likely to be decided by the courts, no matter how the city rules.
That means greater delays in getting the casinos built. But it also could be a useful time to consider moving one or both casinos off the waterfront. At the very least, it gives the city more leeway to address likely problems of traffic and the spillover of crime and nuisances to nearby neighborhoods.
But State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) makes a good case that having the city issue rights to the waterfront property - rather than the state - is bad policy, period. For one thing, the city's $262,575 price for the leasing rights would be about one-tenth what the state would charge.
SugarHouse contends that the state would credit the casino for the cost of its site improvements, discounting the $2.5 million fee to a minimum charge of $250,000. That's at the state's discretion, however, and it would make little sense from taxpayers' vantage point. Beyond that, Fumo properly questions whether this deal would reduce what other developers pay for waterfront projects.
Too many shortcuts have been justified already in the pursuit of casino revenues, even for acknowledged good causes like property-tax relief. The state Gaming Control Board paid little heed to public input before it issued licenses last year. It ignored the city's urging not to put two casinos on the riverfront.