Sweet and Sour

The SugarHouse casino debate taxes neighborly relations in Fishtown.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 4 | Posted Jan. 21, 2009

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Sweet spot: Building SugarHouse casino here is a gamble. (photo by michael persico)

The latter "benefit" slices right into one of the biggest anti-casino arguments: that neighborhood residents--not tourists--comprise most of the players in this type of casino.

The pro-casino mantra is job creation and revenue. In a city with 7.2 percent unemployment rate, SugarHouse's estimate of providing 1,100 "high-quality" jobs, 2,000 retail and hospitality jobs and 2,600 additional jobs in "tangential service industries" seems sweet.

But the anti-casino advocates' mantra is "hidden costs." They say the city will have to pony up for services to deal with the social ills that come along with casinos, like increased crime, personal bankruptcy, divorce and addiction. Not to mention the impact on local businesses.

They point to other communities with casinos that have had problems: significant crime spikes in places like Minnesota and the Mississippi Gulf Coast; the shuttering of the majority of Atlantic City's restaurants; marital murder linked directly to gambling in at least 11 states.

Much like a day at the slots, what really counts is net win or loss. SugarHouse estimates net revenue of $1.2 billion in gaming taxes to Pennsylvania and Philadelphia in the first five years of operation. By incorporating hidden costs--like the police department's estimated additional $14.3 million a year--Casino-Free calcuates a net annual loss of $52 million.

Meanwhile, a once close-knit neighborhood has learned how to shove thy neighbor.

The Fishtown Neighborhood Association (FNA),founded in 2000, is the only official neighborhood nonprofit civic association. Once SugarHouse was introduced, a split shot through the ranks. FNA doesn't want to see SugarHouse built here, but it's less severe than other anti-casino groups; they're willing to talk to SugarHouse as long as the first point of discussion is about moving the site.

Some pro-casino members including FNA founding board members Maggie O'Brien and Donna Tomlinson were so angry at FNA's stance that they seceded from FNA and formed the pro-casino Fishtown Action (FACT).

Soon, anti-casino members of FNA (including Valentine, Seiber and Jones) formed Fishtown Against SugarHouse Takeover (FAST), which they consider a special-interest arm of the FNA.

In an email, O'Brien dismissed FAST: "What exactly is FAST? They do not hold meetings that I am aware of. My take on these people are that they are a loosely formed group who oppose SugarHouse casino," she wrote.

FACT doesn't even have a website.

Both insist that they represent the majority of their neighbors.

Seiber describes how some FAST members walked door-to-door polling neighbors for two days in February 2008 and says that their survey revealed the majority of the residents closest to the site were anti-casino.

O'Brien says FACT proved that most Fishtowners are pro-casino through their "Seeing Red" campaign last winter, in which pro-casino residents hung a red bow on their houses to signify casino support. O'Brien says she gave out 800 bows, which means at least 800 homes in the area are pro-casino. FAST counters that bows were found hung on abandoned houses.

FACT claims 600 members. FAST counters that FACT manufactures membership rolls by forcing curious people into signing a registration form before letting them into meetings, and that most "members" don't even live near the site.

Members of FAST say FACT has kept large men standing post at their meetings to try to intimidate anti-casino residents. Valentine claims to have a received a phone call from a newbie resident frightened by what looked like bouncers. He says between the bouncer-like dudes and people hearing about Verrall getting jumped, it's no wonder some Fishtowners insist on staying mum on the issue.

But as usual, people aren't scared to spout off anonymously online.

"People who don't even know me say things about me like, 'They're shills for SugarHouse,'" says O'Brien. "How can you say that about someone you don't even know?" she asks. "Or like when we had protesters and I got yelled at."

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Comments 1 - 4 of 4
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1. FollowTheMoney said... on Jan 20, 2009 at 09:05PM

“It is very interesting that SugarHouse refuses to disclose how much money it is sprinkling around the neighborhoods. Fortunately, we know, according to a Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board report, that in 2007 alone, SugarHouse gave out $65,169.84 for charitable contributions and community outreach." Why would SugarHouse give out over $65K when they haven't even broken ground yet! Is it out of the goodness of their own hearts? Check out the report, here: http://www.pgcb.state.pa.us/files/communications/2007_Gaming_Diversity_Study.pdf”

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2. Andre T. said... on Jan 27, 2009 at 02:54PM

“Wow. My city struggles on. In this depressed economy, a casino is only going to siphon off what little free pocket change a resident might have to keep the lights on. Are we not aware of what the neighborhoods STILL look like surrounding the Atlantic City casinos? Are we not aware by now that the general arrangement you have when you enter a casino's gaming floor is, you give them money with a more than reasonable expectation of NOT getting it back? Lotteries are bad enough, supposedly working on mathematical odds, or as close as it can be approached by mechanical means. A casino cash cow is the senior citizens at the one arm bandits, which are programmed to NOT pay off big until at set times, like every 500,00 pull. There is something wrong with a machine that pays off "too often", it is shut down and pulled out of service by the casino. There should not even be a question as to this being unproductive for residential conditions. The money players want to make more money. We need jobs, even if they are going to be at the lowest possible wages, code word, "competitive". This is worse than a Walmart, or a strip club, or a porn video palace. A casino takes and takes and takes, and offers false hope while feeding addictions. It's a vice. Do we really need more of them? ”

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3. Anonymous said... on Aug 24, 2009 at 08:03AM

“I am from Philadelphia born and raised . I have been in atlantic city for 30 years at first I thought casino's were good and created jobs and I am sorry to admit all they do is keep people stuck in addiction . They lure you in with complimentaries that you pay for , then they feed you the crap that the more you play the more you earn and they have the nerve ( Gary Loveman CEO of Harrar's ) to say that they teach responsible gaming . That's a load of bull . Gambling is an addiction just like the rest of them , SEX , Food , Drugs, Tabaco , etc. The comment from the person who said to look at the neighborhoods in Atlantic city they are right . I live in the Inlet of Atlantic city and is has been cleaned up the last 15 years and gambing has been here since 1978 . I would love to work in a casino again but the problem is they hire so many foreigners ( because they are yes people ) that there are no jobs for many of American born people who have been paying taxes all ther lives . Thanks”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jan 4, 2011 at 08:58AM



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