Now Mr. Rendell, as governor, has gone a long way toward keeping those gamblers at home by legalizing 14 casinos for Pennsylvania, including two to be built here in the City of Brotherly Love, where he still lives.
But exactly where will those two gambling palaces be located? Near the huge Pennsylvania Convention Center in the bustling downtown area known as Center City? At one of several locations along the scenic Delaware River? Or at ugly old industrial property in north Philadelphia just optioned by casino magnate Donald Trump?
Recommending answers to those site questions has been the job of the Philadelphia Gaming Advisory Task Force, which was named in January by Mayor John F. Street.
It delivered its 436-page report to Mr. Street on Thursday, recommending nine potential sites for the two stand-alone slots parlors, each of which is expected to have about 3,000 slots machines.
The final decisions on which developers get the two casino licenses is up to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. But the siting recommendations from the city’s task force are expected to carry considerable weight with the seven-member state agency.
The task force has spent nine months looking at three major issues: where the casinos should go, how much they might mean in terms of revenue and jobs for the city, and what problems can be expected, such as increased traffic congestion, crime and gambling addictions.
“The coming of gaming to Philadelphia could be the best thing that ever happened to us, or it could be the worst,” Mr. Street told a news conference Thursday in City Hall, a stately old building at Broad and Market streets with a statue of William Penn on top.
“In some cities the expected revenue from gaming didn’t materialize, and it ended up creating nightmares for them,” such as adding to crime problems and having to treat more people with gambling addictions, Mr. Street said.
“We are also concerned that putting thousands of slot machines at inappropriate locations could create traffic nightmares.”
But the mayor professed confidence that such problems wouldn’t occur in Philadelphia. He said he wants casinos to be “a part” of the solution for making Philadelphia more attractive for tourists and natives, combining with Independence Hall and other historic attractions, plus restaurants, universities, museums, art galleries, shops, theaters, nightclubs and sports stadiums.
The gaming task force said the city can expect several thousand new permanent jobs from the two casinos, as well as temporary construction jobs. There also will be up to $30 million for city coffers from a 4 percent gaming “host fee” the law provides for the city and county, which in Philadelphia’s case are the same entity.
Also, a new state economic development fund, to be funded with 5 percent of the gross gaming revenues from all 14 casinos, is expected to provide several hundred million dollars to pay for a major expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which opened in 1993.
The task force has spent months studying where to recommend putting the two gambling casinos.
It listed three general areas within the city. Five sites lie along the Delaware River, which separates Philadelphia from Camden, N.J.; two sites are near the downtown convention center; and two sites about 10 miles from downtown, one in north Philadelphia and one on the city’s western edge, bordering Montgomery County.
Mr. Street said he has intentionally not met with any potential casino developers until the report was issued, but will begin doing so over the next few weeks.
All would-be developers have until Dec. 28 to submit a stand-alone casino application with the state gaming board. The board has up to 12 months to make its decisions.
A Trump vice president, Robert Fickus, said Trump will definitely seek a casino license for an 18-acre former industrial property in north Philadelphia called the Budd Co. property. The working-class neighborhood, which contains some older rowhouses and many empty industrial buildings, is called Nicetown.
The massive Budd complex, with several large empty brick structures, one 10 stories high, is where doors for automobiles and chassis for rail cars were once made. It sits a block away from the Tasty Baking Co., a Philadelphia landmark, near the intersection of Route 1 and the Schuylkill Expressway.
Mr. Fickus said he likes the site because it is about 10 miles from all but one of the competing sites. City officials said they don’t want both of their new casinos too close to each other, to avoid creating traffic gridlock.
“By spreading out the two casinos geographically, it reaches a broader overall [gaming] market and generates more revenue, which benefits the operator, the city and the state,” Mr. Fickus said.
The only other casino site near Nicetown is an area zoned for retail stores several miles west along Route 1, an area bordering Montgomery County. But local officials said the Target company has its eye on that land for a new retail complex anchored by a mammoth Target store.
Five of the nine sites recommended by the Street task force stretch along the Delaware River. One is a vacant city-owned site, where a municipal incinerator used to be; not far away is a site in a neighborhood called Fishtown, where the waterfront property is owned by Ameristar Casinos, a company based in Las Vegas that owns seven casinos around the country.
A third riverfront site, several miles to the south of those two, is now controlled by Harrah’s casinos, which acquired the land a year ago when it took over Caesar’s casinos; a fourth site, near Harrah’s land, contains a sheet metal workers building; and the fifth site is the sprawling former Philadelphia Navy Yard, in the southernmost part of the city.
It isn’t certain if casino developers will present proposals to build on all five sites. Harrah’s is not expected to pursue a casino within Philadelphia because it’s a partner in a new racetrack/casino to be built along the Delaware in Chester, about 10 miles south of Philadelphia.
Mr. Street has expressed an interest in having a minority-owned casino group look into putting a casino on the incinerator site. A group led by lawyer Kenneth Trujillo, a former Philadelphia city solicitor who has political ties to Mr. Street and Mr. Rendell, is considering the idea.
Ameristar spokesman Kevin Feeley said his firm definitely will propose building a $450 million project containing a casino, retail shops, restaurants and entertainment on the Fishtown parcel, which is located between heavily traveled I-95 and the river, not far from the incinerator site.
Mr. Feeley said the Fishtown area is “a working-class neighborhood that has a great mix of people, some longtime residents, some immigrants, some gentrification, with a lot of artists.”
The remaining two casino sites are along busy Market Street in the downtown area near the convention center. Shawn Fordham, director of the casino task force, said the advantage of putting one casino there is that it would give convention-goers something to do.
Many conventioneers already schedule one night during their stay in Philadelphia to travel to Atlantic City, and Mr. Street is hoping to capture that market.
But the two parcels near the convention center are among the smallest of the nine potential sites, which could prove to be a drawback, Mr. Fordham said. Casino operators like to have all the slots machines on one floor, which necessitates a large footprint for the casino, and could rule out the two downtown sites, he added.
A “social impact” subcommittee of the gaming task force had several recommendations for city officials, aimed at easing negative effects of slots.
About 70 to 100 additional city police officers should be hired to deal with thefts, fighting and other problems that could result at casinos, it said, and city police should be given “specialized training in casino crimes,” such as counterfeiting, fraud and check forgery.
City public health officials should educate residents “on how to identify problematic gambling” by family members, and the city should coordinate efforts with outside consultants and state health officials to develop programs to treat addicted gamblers.