Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Side That Ain't So Sweet!

Last Thursday, the City of Philadelphia became the largest U.S. City to have a casino. Yes, in both area and population, Philly is larger than both Atlantic City and Las Vegas. I know it doesn't seem like it, but it's true. My wife and I visited the Sugar House just this past Friday Night.

Nobody thinks that the opening of this casino a few days ago will make Philadelphia an east coast version of Las Vegas. It won't even be Atlantic City west, but the first casino ever in the city of Philadelphia may put a dent into AC's business and it will give the city government a much-appreciated revenue boost. At least that's what they've been telling us.

The opening of the Sugar House last Thursday marks the end of more than a decade of legal wrangling, protests, suits, countersuits, and delays as casino owners worked to mollify upset neighbors and keep supportive ones happy. It also means that Philadelphia will finally get at least some of the rivers-of-money state lawmakers envisioned would flow from legalized gambling in the state. In today's depressed economy, however, the promised tax relief that would accompany that money may not be in the cards.

The new Sugar House casino is the smallest of the three casinos now operating in the Philadelphia area (there is one in Chester and I don't know where the third one is), with only 45,000 or so square feet of gaming space, a decision made in response to community opposition to a huge facility. Inside the low-ceilinged, intimate space are 1,600 slot machines, 40 tables offering seven different games, a small enclosed area with blackjack tables for high rollers, two casual eateries, two bars, and one amenity no other casino floor in North America has... windows!

Yupper, a whole wall of them, facing the Delaware River, on whose bank the facility sits. They offer a fabulous view of the river and Camden on the other side of it... and they can be opened. No one will be able to completely lose track of time here. A promenade just beyond the windows will eventually connect to a planned riverside greenway and pedestrian/bicycle path.

Also, with the casino comes jobs... 900 of them, which are 90% filled by Pennsylvanians, 75% of whom are city residents, and 20% residents of neighboring Fishtown. The casino will also pump money into a special services district for Fishtown and other neighborhood improvements, with the stream expected to be $1 million a year by 2012.

Casino critics fear the facility will also bring crime, increased poverty, and a passel of domestic problems stemming from gambling addiction, not to mention traffic. Casino-Free Philadelphia, an organization formed to stop the two casinos the state gaming law allocates to Philadelphia, plans to launch a campaign publicizing the problems associated with gambling addiction in an effort to depress casino revenues.

But the casino also has fans among the neighbors, including a group organized specifically to support it, Fishtown Action. The supporters especially appreciate the jobs and physical improvements that the casino is bringing to the area. Okay, that's the sweet side... here is the side of having a casino or casinos isn't as sweet.

I parked my car this morning and instead of walking the three long city blocks to my building, I caught the shuttle bus that just happened to be there. A woman was excitedly telling the bus driver about her experience at the Sugar House (apparently, she had been there Friday Night when my wife and I were there). She told the bus driver about the two restaraunts, the band that was doing 70's cover songs, and the little bit of money she won on the slot machines. She asked him if he had been or when he was planning to check it out and the bus driver said flatly-"Never!"

It wasn't that I was listening to their conversation, but this flat refusal to go to something brand new in this town peaked my interest. He went on to say that he was a "degenerate gambler" and that, "some years ago, he ran up a debt so big at Resorts in Atlantic City that the hotel-casino actually had the deed to his house!" He said he owed close to $100,000 and it took him ten years to pay it all off. After that, he had learned his lesson. He said, almost with pride, "I haven't been in a casino since 1992."

I shook my head at the loss and the pure waste of being on the hook for that kind of money for ten or fifteen years. He could've put a couple of kids through college and bought a bigger, better home, car, or done some traveling in all of that time. Again, I thought, what a complete waste.

Some human beings don't need their weaknesses and vices brought to light like that... I shudder when I think of the people who have gone bankrupt and lost their homes and marriages behind their gambling addictions. That's the side of legalized gambling that ain't so sweet... regardless of what you call the house!


12kyle said...

I've never been a fan of casinos b/c I've never been a fan of...well...losing money! LOL. I've never been to one. Maybe one day, I'll take $100 and go one day. That's about all that I'm willing to wager when I walk in the door

Arlene said...

Cousin, that other casino is the Parx, at the racetrack, north on 95 at Street Road. It's the casino where people keep leaving their children locked in cars while they gamble! SMH! Mothers, fathers and grandparents have been caught leaving kids as young a 22 months.

I like the glitter and glamour of the casino. I've been to Vegas and Atlantic City many times for the fun of it. I'm not throwing away too much of my money though. I always determine how much I'm going to play with before I leave home and ALL my winnings go in my pocketbook to be taken home, not given back to Steve (that's Steve Wynn) or "the Donald."

Gambling is like alcohol for some folks. Some people can go to a casino, have fun and leave. Others are going down in the gutter.


"Mommy, can I go to Timmy's blog and play?"

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