Philly to casinos: Move it or lose it

Pennsylvania lawmakers are trying to force Philadelphia’s two licensed casino operators to move their casinos from the current unpopular locations.

Two powerful lawmakers representing Philadelphia, state House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans and outgoing state Senator Vincent Fumo, said at a news conference last week that they will draft legislation to remove the tax breaks for Philadelphia’s Foxwoods and SugarHouse slot casinos if they did not abandon their current sites along the Delaware River waterfront.

The lawmakers are trying to get the casino operators to move to a site near the airport. The operators have balked at the possibility, and said that the state gaming board licensed their projects because they are already in the best locations to generate revenue for the state.

Evans and Fumo are responding to vocal opposition to the casino sites from around half of the nearby residents, who are supported by Philadelphia City Council.

“We are sending a message to citizens of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania that we are trying to fix the problem,” said Evans, who was joined at the press conference by nine Philadelphia-area lawmakers in addition to Fumo. “We didn’t think it would be the problem it is today, but it has created tension for people in the community as well as politically.”

SugarHouse spokeswoman Leigh Whitaker responded with comments to reporters inviting Evans to visit, so they can explain “why our site is the best site and re-siting is not an option.”

Governor Ed Rendell supports the position of the casinos in the dispute, confirming through a spokesman that the lawmakers have no legal basis to force the developers to relocate their projects. However, Rendell offered last week to serve as a facilitator in negotiations between the lawmakers and the developers.

Foxwoods spokeswoman Maureen Garrity said the operator would be open to such a meeting. “While Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia remains committed to the site that was approved by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and upheld by the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court, we would welcome a meeting to discuss and resolve this issue so that we can move forward in bringing jobs and tax revenues to the residents of Pennsylvania,” Garrity said in a statement.