Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Slots Hearings

The Gaming Control Board's Monday hearings on Philadelphia's proposed slots houses were notable for two things: 1) How similiar all five applications are, and 2) How many members of the city's permanent elite are cashing in on gambling.

It should come as no surprise that the five aspiring slots houses each offer pretty much the same thing, since the state's gaming law is so restrictive and since the gambling industry is so formulaic. Each of the two winning operators will need to start with 3,000 slot machines - or gaming points, as the industry likes to call them. Industry formulas dictate one parking space for every gaming point, ergo each gaming house starts with a 3,000-car garage. Most of the applicants also responded with the industry's standard food package for a low-end, 3,000-slot joint: Food Court? Check. Sports Bar? Check. Steak House? Check. A non-gaming amenitiy like movie theater or outdoor dining? Check. Big-box-style architecture? Check. It's clear now that the only issues still in play for Philadelphia are siting and traffic.

The applications are so similar that the operators and their local hype-masters devoted most of their allotted speaking time at the hearing to trying to position their image. So one slots house is all about "charity," while another is "the real Philadelphia" casino.

TrumpStreet, the only slots house that doesn't plan to mar the Delaware waterfront, claimed that it will revitalize the run-down industrial neighborhood between Nicetown and East Falls. Pinnacle, which has a river site in Fishtown, made the clever move of hiring the Jerde Partnership, perhaps the best in the glitzy business of retail-entertainment design. SugarHouse, on the Jack Frost Site, touted its strong financial backing from Chicago real estate billionaire Neil G. Bluhm.

Foxwoods, which has hired Ewing Cole Architects - the same guys responsible for helping create America's dullest-ever baseball park, Citizens Bank field - claimed with a straight face that they really don't want those zillions in gambling profits and will give oodles to charity. The real chutzpah award goes to Planet Hollywood's collection of Philadelphia insiders, who've dubbed themselves The Home Team. Because its board happens to be controlled by ethnic minorities, they are claiming - without shame or irony - that their Riverwalk casino will do most to enrich the city's ethnic minorities - ie, those minorities serving on the board. In answer to the question of why their project is better than any other project, Planet Hollywood's Robert Earl thundered theatrically: "It's our intention to make Riverwalk a huge success." No doubt.

The list of insiders on the various boards is so long, it was impossible to scribble them all down. We'll just throw out a few names for the moment. Plant Hollywood, of course, leads the pack with former city solicitor Ken Trujillo, Gov. Rendell's former election chair Tom Leonard, Septa board member Herman Wooden, Parking Authority chair Joe Ashdale, talk-show host Bill Anderson, a former city controller, and the daughter of the late lawyer Obra Kernodle. I always thought Kernodle's main claim to fame was serving as counsel to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, but it seems that he had a "vision" for a riverfront slots barn and now we can't stop hearing about it from the grave. It's a shame this feels like an insider's game because Planet Hollywood has one of the better sites.

Meanwhile SugarHouse has Republican Party representation from uber-lawyer Richard Sprague and builder Dan Keating. At Foxwoods, the local line-up include business mogul Lew Katz, shopping mall magnate Ron Rubin, developer Peter DePaul, and basketball coach Dawn Staley. There's also plenty of work for the usual consulting suspects, Former city Commerce Director Stephen Mullin of Econsult and Orth Rodgers are signed up with Foxwoods, BLT is designing for Planet Hollywood, and Larry Ceisler of Ceisler/Jubelirer flakking for TrumpStreet. Of course, let us not forget professional self-promoter Pat Croce, for Trump. Every time I hear him talk I think of the remark by Flannery O'Conner's gunman in "A Good Man is Hard to Find." He'd be alright if he had someone to shoot him in the head every minute of the day.


Blogger vincedean said...

Very nice Inga ! Once again you are right on the MONEY !(pun inteded) Hopefully these imposter buildings won't mar the cityscape too much. At least they can be torn downwhen gambling fails ! Now what do we do about Pat Croce ? I agree ! Anybody have a gun ?
I love you Inga !

2:06 PM  
Anonymous HospitalityGirl said...

Despite the degree of sameness to these projects, they each bring some compelling element to the table. PPG, with its 11.5 acre site, and proximity to public transportation, has stated that they would invest in improvements to the SEPTA facilities nearby; TrumpStreet is intending to use local businesses to create a Reading Terminal effect. I think Sugarhouse and Pinnacle, while not as nice as they could be, aren't as ugly as they could be either.
But I was particularly amused by Councilman DeCicco's thinly veiled response to recent suggestions by the PA General Assembly that Philadelphia is "too corrupt" to have any say in the process, that if the General Assembly played nicely in the sandbox with the City, then the City could make the process easier for the gaming and entertainment facilities. If not, the City wouldn't be too cooperative, either! It brought a grin to my face while sitting there yesterday.
The other things I found of note, were the statements made by virtually all of the representatives that they would invest seed money into starting Special Services Districts in the areas surrounding the facilities. Someone needs to do a head count and quick. Most of these areas have BIDs and CDCs, as well as other community groups. No need to reinvent the wheel here, just invest some more money into organizations that already exist, and expect a better accounting from them. Have some metrics against which they can measure themselves. Otherwise, you will only add layers, potentially complicating matters, not simplifying.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear since you didn't put the two dots over the 'u' in ├╝ber-lawyer, Richard Sprague is going to sue you.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bit my tongue a few posts ago, but I don't see the point of continued potshots at Citizen's Bank Park. The truth is although its location isn't perfect, it does have some advantages over parks like Camden Yards. Otherwise, this was a good post. Thanks again for the blog.

10:00 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

Very good summary of the hearing. I wasn't there, but I get the idea. I don't quite see how public officials keep falling for claims that casinos (slots casinos no less, which are even worse) can revitalize a neighborhood or a city. Atlantic City presents a good facade, but behind the facade it has just lost its last supermarket and is pretty much a wreck, or was the last time I was there.

The goal in designing a casino is to keep the gamblers in and glued to the tables, not to reach out to the neighborhood. I could go on and on. I'm not opposed to gambling per se, but the fact is that as a development plan it is a failure in any place not named Las Vegas.

Still, the claims go on being made, and the officials keep on believing them. Or claiming to. After all, casinos bring in lots of revenue without appearing to raise taxes. Don't get me started on the hypocrisy of this. I rode a bus full of poor people down to Atlantic City a couple of years ago on my way to staff a booth at a teacher convention. Nobody can tell me my busmates were going there for the shopping. They were supporting the casino companies and the State of New Jersey. And probably a lot of them played the slots.

No disagreement about the architecture of Citizens Bank Park, by the way, but as a place to watch a game it's pretty good. The real problem is that it's in the middle of our sports complex wasteland instead of near Center City, where it should be.

5:50 PM  
Blogger gabe said...

The real question is, Which casino has the support of The Ghost of Ron White?

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you misrepresent the neighborhood Trump wants to 'revitalize'. Although he showed images of blighted north philadelphia in his presentation at the hearings the location of the entrance to the proposed slots casino is in East Fall less than a mile from the Govenor, the Senator and the Congressman's homes. the nearest homes, w/in a block are pretty little row houses that are very well kept with 'say not to TRUMP!' signs in the windows. Apparently Trump wants to revitalize one of the most desireable residential real estate in Philadelphia.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't agree more with the last anonymous posting. TrumpStreet makes much of its "Nicetown" location and how it will come in and save the day for that poor area, but ignores the fact that it is also in East Falls, a one of a kind neighborhood with a rich history and beuatiful homes, that does not need assistance from a slot parlor in its backyard. Of course, if TrumpStreet ends up building there (God-forbid) I am sure that when they market themselves to suburbanites, they will go to great lengths to highlight their East Falls neighborhood location and to ignore Nicetown and route all traffic away from the Nicetown neighborhood. The truth is, Trump and Croce care only about the dough they stand to make and nothing about the effects of their project upon East Falls or Nicetown.
Also, besides the nice homes within a mile of the proposed slot parlor, there also sit: Philadelphia University, William Penn Charter School, Germantown Friends School, Mifflin School, and St. Bridget's parish. How can anyone but the disinterested or self-interested outsiders think it is a bright idea to add a casino there?

2:23 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

In addition to the schools mentioned in the last comment, there are the Wissahickon Charter School and the Kelly School. The first will be within a stone's throw of the proposed TrumpStreet location; the second, within two stone's throws.

3:48 PM  
Blogger normajean said...

One comment that was made at the hearings that I thought was interesting was a plea for the Gaming Control Board members to actually visit the proposed sites. If they see in person the vitality of East Falls or the current traffic on Delaware Avenue near the Riverview (site of Foxwoods casino) as well as the others, then that can only help them in their decision making. I wonder if the Board members would take that initiative.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Jethro H said...

The waterfront's latest addtion, Waterfront Square is a gated luxury condo complex that has limited or no public access (once it opens). The casinos and other proposals being discussed make me think that the Delaware Waterfront (which I live across the street from) is going to be a wall of gated communities and nuisance uses like casinos that may get 24 hours a day liquor licenses. There are many plans that the City has done with taxpayer money over the past two decades, why aren't we hearing about what has been planned?

2:14 AM  

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