Posted on Sat, Jun. 28, 2008
Nutter commissions study on casinos
By Patrick Kerkstra
Inquirer Staff Writer
Never mind the unfavorable court rulings, or the pressure from Gov. Rendell, or even the potential damage to his own budget. Mayor Nutter is digging in against the proposed riverfront casinos.
"Can the casino plans at their proposed locations work or not? An honest, legitimate, third-party analysis must be conducted," Nutter said in a speech about the future of the Delaware River front Thursday night.
But the mayor's question was rhetorical. He has already decided that the proposed developments are not a good fit for the city, and leaders of the organization he asked to study the question, PennPraxis, are also on record opposing the casinos as presently designed.
What Nutter will likely get from the report (due in 60 days) is ammunition for his fight to prevent construction of the Foxwoods and SugarHouse casinos.
"He's not being coy; he's not sending them on a neutral fact-finding mission. What he's asked PennPraxis to do is clarify why this is a bad location," said Terry Gillen, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority and Nutter's chief casino advisor.
PennPraxis director Harris Steinberg, who has said the proposed casinos are the "antithesis" of what the waterfront needs, will lead the study.
"The mayor's looking for objective research to use in his negotiations with the state," Steinberg said. "He's been consistent in questioning the use and the location; now he's asking us, go deeper."
Another objective of the study, Steinberg said, is to propose new and likely radically different casino designs that would be a better fit for the city's new riverfront development plan, also created by PennPraxis.
Foxwoods and SugarHouse have rejected the idea of moving to a different site or overhauling their proposed developments. Doing so would require the companies to return to the state Gaming Control Board and reopen the licensing process, said SugarHouse spokesman Dan Fee.
"The Supreme Court has been very clear: The city cannot determine casino sites. The court has also been clear in its mandate to the city that it must comply with the law and allow our project to move forward," Foxwoods spokeswoman Maureen Garrity said in a statement.
If the city continues to stall, the statement said, Foxwoods will not hesitate to again seek relief in court.
And with the state Supreme Court, the legislature and Rendell all consistently backing Foxwoods and SugarHouse, it is not clear how a PennPraxis study will change matters.
The city is not without leverage, however.
"There are still a number of permits both operators need to get from the city. There's lots of regulatory approval they still need," Gillen said.
She hastened to say the city was "making sure we stay within the letter and spirit of the law, as the courts have instructed." But doing so, Gillen said, does not require the city to abandon all review.
Casino foes are urging the city to enforce every last rule and regulation in an attempt to thwart or at least further delay construction.
"Licenses and Inspections knows how to lose files for a long period of time," said Casino Free Philadelphia spokesman Daniel Hunter.
He and other casino opponents hope that the political climate in Harrisburg will change to the point where the legislature will consider moving the two Delaware River slots parlors to another part of the city, as proposed in a bill introduced by State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) in late April.
Nutter has been meeting frequently with legislators in recent weeks, and though the casino issue has come up, it has not been the chief topic of the discussions, according to his aides