FUMO BILLS WOULD CREATE 1500-FOOT
CASINO BUFFER IN PHILADELPHIA
HARRISBURG, July 13 2007
– Fulfilling a commitment he made to community group leaders at a meeting of the
Delaware River Neighborhood Alliance (DRNA) on June 13, state Senator Vince Fumo
(D-Philadelphia) has introduced legislation that would ban casinos within 1,500
feet of residential areas, schools and churches in the city.
The provision is contained in two separate but
identical pieces of legislation – one bill that would apply to a geographic area
that includes the proposed Foxwoods casino site and another to an area that
includes the proposed Sugarhouse location. Together the bills would establish
the 1,500-foot buffer zone citywide.
“I believe this legislation has virtually no chance of
passing either the House or Senate, and I told that to the community groups when
I met with them,” Fumo said.
“Nevertheless, I promised them that I would introduce
the legislation prior to the legislature’s summer recess if they requested it,
so today I have done that. I have a widely acknowledged 29-year record for
keeping my word as a public official, even when it is difficult for me to do so,
and that isn’t going to change now,” he added.
As Fumo explained to the community representatives at
the meeting, a 1,500-foot buffer zone creates significant problems that loom as
major obstacles to passage of such legislation. Act 71 legalizing slot machine
gambling in the state required two venues to be located within the state’s
largest city, mainly to maximize revenue.
“The bill’s inherent flaw is the arbitrary nature of
the 1,500-foot barrier. It has the effect of precluding any commercially viable
casino site in the city. As a consequence, the city would lose out on $800
million for a major expansion of the convention center, more than $20 million
annually for the general fund budget that city council has already included in
its five-year plan, $5 million annually for the school district, reduction of
the city’s wage tax, and thousands of new casino-related jobs and businesses,”
“Instead of focusing on a bill that has no chance of
passing, I would prefer that Philadelphia’s river-front neighborhoods engage in
a dialogue with casino developers to ensure that such development occurs in a
manner that protects surrounding communities,” he added. “We all should be
addressing problems such as traffic congestion, noise, nuisance behavior, and so
on right now.”
Fumo has received feedback from many people in the
northern end of his senatorial district, near the proposed Sugarhouse casino,
since the June 13 meeting. Residents and several neighborhood organizations have
told him they support the Sugarhouse project, even while others oppose it.
That division of opinion is the reason that Fumo has
introduced two separate bills instead of one. If, at some point in the future,
it becomes clear to him that the sentiment of one community is in favor of
allowing a casino to proceed, Fumo said he would withdraw the bill that applies
to that section of the city.
“At the June 13 meeting, I had heard from leaders of
community groups who feel strongly that they do not want the Foxwoods or
Sugarhouse casinos near their homes. Over the past several weeks, however, I
personally have met with neighbors who vehemently oppose the legislation that I
am introducing today. In retrospect, perhaps I should not have made a blanket
promise to introduce the 1,500-foot buffer zone for the entire city. But I made
the commitment and am honoring it now,” Fumo said.
“At the same time, as I introduce these bills, I am
making a commitment that if the communities near either casino decide they favor
that development, I will recall the piece of legislation that would affect that
region,” he said.
Pursuant to long-standing, but seldom used custom of
the Senate of Pennsylvania, Fumo introduced the legislation “by request” of the
DRNA. That designation on a bill indicates that the sponsor of the legislation
was introducing it to satisfy the request of certain constituents. There is no
legal or legislative consequence to this designation
In requesting the legislation, the DRNA did so on its
own behalf and was not acting for any other organization. The group made that
clear in a letter to Fumo, which said in part:
“We recognize there are groups in the City who
officially take an anti-casino position; however, as you know, we are not one of
those groups. At this time, our sole focus is to have these two casinos
relocated to areas more protective of residential neighborhoods, consistent with
a 1,500-foot buffer. In addition, the DRNA and no one else speaks for the DRNA.”
In promising Senate legislation for a 1,500-foot buffer
zone, which replicates a proposal already introduced in the House by Rep.
Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia,) Fumo offered no pretense that it would pass,
but rather told the community group leaders that odds against it were
In response to a question at the June 13 meeting about
whether he would, at their request, introduce the bill, Fumo said:
“I’ll put it in. Do you think anybody is going to vote
for it? Let’s be honest. I don’t know that other Senators and House members from
Philadelphia will vote for it. The ones along the waterfront will, because it
affects you. But there are people in this city who want the one percent
reduction in the wage tax. There are people in this city who want the jobs from
the casinos. There are people in this city who want to go to the casinos.”
In response to another question at the meeting, again
urging him to introduce the bill, Fumo reiterated that he would do so, then he
“But I’m also not going to lie to you. I’m not going to
tell you it’s going to pass. I’m not going to tell you it’s going to get out of
Fumo also pointed to two House members who attended the
meeting. Noting that the House has a Democratic majority, unlike the Senate
where Fumo sits in the minority, he observed that they have not been able to
move Rep. Josephs’ bill out of committee there, either.
By eliminating almost all commercially viable sites in
the city, the legislation would deny the state the gambling revenue from
Philadelphia, which reliable estimates peg at about 25 percent of the statewide
total. With Pennsylvania depending upon slots revenue for statewide school
property tax cuts as well as Philadelphia’s wage tax cuts, for economic
development money, and for bolstering the state’s horse racing industry, it is
extremely unlikely that the state legislature will do anything to forego the
significant percentage of slots income that Philadelphia’s two casinos will
Fumo asked attendees at the meeting to identify other
sights within the city that would meet the 1,500-foot buffer zone criteria, but
received no commercially viable suggestions.
“I am sensitive to the very legitimate concerns of the
people who live in the neighborhoods where the casinos are to be built, and I
want to help solve their problems. I also have a responsibility to all of my
constituents, and that includes those who are counting on casinos for wage tax
cuts and jobs,” Fumo said.
Fumo feels an additional obligation to people who
oppose a casino at both locations, to be honest with them and to fight for their
interests in the most effective way possible. It is highly probable that once
the legislative and judicial processes have run their course, casinos are coming
to the two sights already chosen by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Therefore, he believes their best course of action is to negotiate an agreement
with the casinos as soon as possible to mitigate the adverse impact that
gambling halls might have on their neighborhoods.
The bill pertaining to the areas near Foxwoods is SB
1031; the one pertaining to the Sugarhouse site is SB 1032.
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