Philly Blunt

Freelance writer. Editor and web-video producer. Former Atlantic City Press and Philadelphia Weekly staff writer, City Paper managing editor/columnist and Dougherty for Senate campaign manager. Comments welcome here or emailed to brianhickey9 [at] hotmail. Now on: Facebook (Brian Hickey, in Philly) Twitter at www.twitter.com/brianhickey Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/people/brianhickey/. Be sure to check out Hickey on Divorce Court: divorcecourting.blogspot.com.

06 October 2009

A.C. is dead, long live A.C.

There are two reasons why I haven't waded into the casino-debate since my backyard was cleared of the potential Trump jawn.
1. The anti-casino group is led by imported douchery.
2. The casinos will take money away from an established gambling city that I love, that being A.C.; plus, gambling itself is a diversion against which I hold no moral grudge.
But this whole Mike O'Brien/Larry Farnese attached to community groups thing caught my eye as interesting. Since most posts about it are of the standard "government doesn't care 'bout us" variety, I figure what the hell, lemme share the release that just arrived from Farnese's office. Think with it what you will.

More than two weeks ago, members of the Budget Conference Committee announced they had reached a budget deal. That agreement included a provision to authorize table games such as blackjack, poker, and roulette at Pennsylvania's slots parlors.

Since then, I have stood by my pledge to reform gaming and urged lawmakers not to mix the table games issue with Senate Bill 711 - a bill I cosponsored, which makes sweeping reforms to gaming and its regulatory body, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. This gaming reform legislation passed the Senate in July.

Friday, however, the House Gaming Oversight Committee suspended its rules, to amend S.B. 711 with a provision to authorize table games - a move I believe defeats the entire purpose of the gaming reform legislation. A reform bill should not be used as a vehicle to expand the very thing it is trying to reform.

Over the weekend, the House of Representatives began considering additional amendments to S.B. 711, which has now been dubbed "the Table Games bill" - as though reform were never even part of the legislation. More than 150 additional amendments were proposed after Friday's Gaming Oversight Committee hearing.

One amendment that passed the House Sunday, would require casinos with a table games certificate to pay an additional tax on gross revenues from table games, which would benefit the neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity of casinos.

I’ve never believed that casinos were the best way to raise money for the state, but casinos now exist in Pennsylvania. If casinos are coming to Philadelphia and will be expanded to include table games, then the casinos should pay their fair share to mitigate the impact on the surrounding communities. There also needs to be a mechanism in place to ensure that the money reaches those specific neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity of the casino.

That mechanism should be open, transparent, and subject to the highest standards of ethical conduct. The Ethics Act, Right-to-Know-Law, and Adverse Interest Act should apply. Plus, legislators should not hold the lion's share of control.

Right now, there are almost a dozen special service districts in Philadelphia, with taxing authority or their own source of funding. Five are in my legislative district alone. They provide critical services to many neighborhoods - and operate independent of city government. These districts are just one example of a structure that could be established to address the needs of targeted communities.

As the General Assembly continues to consider the issue of gaming and gaming reform, I will continue to advocate for the much-needed reform provisions contained in S.B. 711. I hope the Senate can improve on Senate Bill 711 by creating an open and transparent process to direct aid to those communities most affected by casinos.

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