The casino express is chugging toward Philadelphia, and local politicians are greasing the rails.
Mayor Michael Nutter speaks of the need to expedite the approval process for a slot-machine parlor in the old Strawbridge's building, two blocks from Independence Mall. City Councilman Frank DiCicco introduced legislation to welcome a terrible redesign of the SugarHouse casino proposed for the waterfront.
At one time, both of those men sided with community groups fighting to keep casinos out of the city's neighborhoods. But they flip-flopped this year, citing the failure of their half-hearted court challenges as well as empty threats from a few legislators in Harrisburg.
Casinos make little economic sense, and they would exacerbate the social problems already plaguing the city. Candidate Nutter understood this back in 2007, when he wrote, "I do not support gambling as an economic development tool or as a way to fund ongoing government programs, no matter how worthy."
Casino boosters equate slots parlors with tax relief, as the government would cut the wage tax using funds from a 55 percent tax on gambling revenues. But that means we must feed the slots almost $2 for every $1 in tax cuts. What sort of tax relief is that?
The numbers are even worse when the hidden costs are factored in. For example, most slots players in Philadelphia would be local residents, losing money they otherwise might have spent elsewhere in the city. Every dollar lost in a slot machine is a dollar not spent on restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses that are essential to the health of our community.
And the city would have to shell out big money to keep up with increased rates of crime and a spike in gambling addiction, bankruptcies, and other problems that inevitably worsen in areas where casinos open. No wonder the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority has warned that two slots parlors in Philadelphia could result in a net loss of jobs and an increase in the city deficit.
Up to us
The politicians want to hide these realities and ram the casino express into town before residents know what hit them. They hope to hurry pro-casino legislation through City Council and pretend the casinos are a done deal.
The politicians are mistaken. There is plenty of time for citizens to derail this fiasco by demonstrating, through our words and deeds, that slots parlors in a major city are not a solution to economic problems.
State-sponsored gambling represents a failure of integrity on the part of officials we dared to trust. Flip-flopping politicians don't represent the will of the people, and neither does the casino-boosting governor or the legislators making bogus threats to punish our city if it blocks the casinos.
We can stop the casino express before it rolls into Philadelphia - by fighting it in the courts, in City Hall, and anywhere else necessary. The day we stop it will be a day to celebrate the fact that power ultimately rests with the people, not the politicians.