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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O'Brien's been frequently accused of forming FACT as a front for the casino. Over the phone she denies the charges and says that she's been so distraught about personal attacks in comments on blogs and online articles that she's stopped reading them.

"We're all volunteers and we're not shills for SugarHouse and no one is paying us. Guess what? They couldn't have paid me enough to go through 14 months of these negotiations with lawyers," she adds, referring to the Community Benefits Agreement, which was signed by members of FACT and New Kensington Community Development Corporation but not members of either Fishtown nor Northern Liberties' official representative organizations.

Commenters also speculated that O'Brien was promised a plush job when the casino opens. O'Brien, who toils in the sales department at the Philadelphia Inquirer, laughs it off, saying if she doesn't make it to retirement at the Inky she'd like to work somewhere stress-free, like a Hallmark gift shop.

Meanwhile, Chuck Valentine says he can't even seek refuge from the neighborhood drama during Sunday mass. Holy Name of Jesus church on East Gaul Street, within walking distance from the proposed casino site, reportedly accepted $10,000 from SugarHouse to offset tuition at St. Laurentius Catholic School, where parish kids go since Holy Name's school closed in 2006.

SugarHouse has drizzled an undisclosed amount of money on the community to win hearts. SugarHouse president Bob Sheldon has been quoted saying the casino doesn't want to "broadcast" the total amount and recipient list.

Father Francis Groarke, pastor of Holy Name, told PennPraxis, "They've given us $10,000--free money, no questions asked--to help keep tuition reasonable. I think their commitment to the community is going to be a strong one."

Just down the street at the M-Room, Valentine is pissed that his church is in bed with a corporation he finds immoral.

"I'm very angry and upset with my pastor," says Valentine. "The FACT meetings are held in Holy Name. It's frustrating to me because some studies show that casinos hurt church revenue too. ... The pastor is somewhat naive. I tried to confront him," says Valentine. "He sort of blew me off."

The first call into the Holy Name rectory to request comment from Father Groarke on the casino and the neighborhood went unreturned. On the second call, Father Groarke yelled, "No comment!" in the background.

A "CasiNO!" sign hangs in a window a block away from the 102-year-old church.

Despite the drama over SugarHouse, O'Brien insists the community's still close-knit, pointing to the way the neighborhood came together to fight the library and fire house closings.

"That's more propaganda. 'Ooh, the neighborhood's split. People who have been friends for 30 years no longer talk to one another.' Nonsense," she says. "If anyone has lost a friend of it, then that person wasn't a good friend to begin with."

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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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