Predatory Gambling

Does City Hall endorse racial profiling by advocating for a Market Street casino - AGAIN?

No casino sign

In posts too many to name, I’ve shared concerns many of us in the Asian community have about the gambling industry’s penchant for racial profiling. Sometimes, though, it’s refreshing when the industry just speaks for itself:

Philadelphia's large Asian and Slavic populations help make it the right place for a second casino, an attorney for a company that had pondered bidding to run a casino here told the House Gaming Oversight Committee Thursday.

“It is known that we have the two ethnicities that frequent the gambling,” said James J. DiVergilis, who represents Global Gaming, a company that operates no casinos, but considered seeking one of the two Philadelphia licenses awarded in 2006 and now wants to open one in the Meadowlands. “The two ethnicities that go to these are the Slavic community and the Asians,” he said. And “outside Brooklyn, North East Philadelphia is the highest Slavic community in the country.” . . . . .

. . . But freshman legislator and committee member John Lawrence, R-Delaware, was clearly flabbergasted by what he heard.

“Sir, with all due respect, your comments with regards to particular ethnic groups being more or less likely to participate in gambling was somewhat surprising and shocking to me. And disturbing, frankly,” Lawrence said. “I wonder where you come across this information, and how you justify it, frankly.”

DiVergilis told Lawrence that this was not his personal opinion, but what he has read in the gaming trade publications [sic]. “It's all in the literature,” he said.

I have to give it up to you Mr. DiVergilis, gambling industry rep, for your brutal honesty in laying out the cold reality of the predatory gambling industry. You’re hardly wrong to be baffled by anyone’s naivete about your industry’s success in free-range racial profiling. In an investor phone call, Steve Wynn cited the proximity of “a Vietnamese neighborhood” as one of the reasons he contemplated (for a nanosecond) taking over the failed Foxwoods project. Sugarhouse is advertising for an Asian Marketing Executive whose primary job is to “attract an Asian player base to the property.” Earlier this month, Sugarhouse filed a request with the Gaming Commission to create an “Asian themed room” with a noodle bar.

So if there’s little pretense about the fact that the gambling industry has its sights set on the Asian community, explain to me why the City not only continues to endorse that industry but enable it by advocating a casino return to Market Street:

Could the idea of a Market Street casino be back on the table?

Mayor Nutter and his staff are still very much opposed to a casino on Columbus Boulevard at Reed Street in South Philly and are keen on a gaming hall on Market Street East in Center City near the expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center. Alan Greenberger, Nutter's deputy mayor for planning and economic development, told the state House Gaming Oversight Committee this morning that the administration would like the see a second casino in Philadelphia used to "leverage" a larger project such as a hotel near the Convention Center.

Dept. of miserable jobs: Sugarhouse's Asian Marketing Executive

(Update: Read WHYY's story here)

Remember how Chinatown made that big ole fuss over a neighborhood casino?

Here's more proof why: Sugarhouse’s Asian Marketing Exec:

Sugarhouse Asian marketing exec-Part1

Sugarhouse Asian marketing exec-Part2-c

Sugarhouse Asian marketing exec-Part3

Side note: It’s particularly nice to know the qualifications are in keeping with Sugarhouse’s top-notch standards, i.e. "regularly required to walk, stand, see, talk and hear." (don't want to surprise applicants with unexpected job requirements!)

Gambling's real winners and losers

On Sunday, Monica Yant Kinney wrote a shocking story about the locals who make Bucks County's Parx Casino so "profitable." According to Parx, most of their clients live within a 20 mile radius of Street Road and come 3-4 times a week, losing $25-$30 a trip.

Today we get to meet one of Parx's regulars: a former construction worker who was sidelined due to injury but now has found his new profession as a casino player.

Anderson lives five minutes from the Bensalem slots box, which raked in $400 million in profit last year in a recession. Proximity, plus free valet parking, has turned the unemployed cement mason into a casino operator's dream.

Anderson, 31, pops in for 90 minutes here, three hours there. He plays to relax and to kill time when his kids are in school. He plays late at night when he can't sleep or at dawn while his wife dozes.

Anderson views playing the slots as a profession, a flextime job he can do in sweats while smoking.

"I treat it like a business," he tells me after we meet at the casino. "If this is what I have to do to make money, this is what I have to do."

Problem is that Anderson doesn't realize Steve Wynn's favorite quote: The only way to beat the house is to be the house.

Things that make me want to go . . . . UGH

  1. Today’s front page Inquirer story on the chaos at South Philly High School on Dec. 3: The chaos and trauma that gripped South Philly High is front and center - as is the leadership of SPHS principal LaGreta Brown. From before 9 a.m. and continuing throughout the school day, Brown knew of multiple attacks on Asian immigrant students and a school in crisis and largely failed to act.

    What the story missed: The day after the violence on Dec. 3rd, the Principal sent home a letter to parents that began: "As you may have heard in the news, an incident occurred at dismissal, outside of South Philadelphia High School on Thursday, December 3, 2009." The letter not only brings into question the principal's judgement that day but in the days following when Brown engaged in questionable conduct as public scrutiny increased. LaGreta Brown may have entered a challenging situation at SPHS when she arrived, but her lack of leadership, action and subsequent acceptance of responsibility has resulted in a challenging school becoming a dangerous and fractious place for all students there - Asian immigrant students in particular - and a national embarassment for the School District.

  2. Where’s the apology?: The claim that Asian students attacked a disabled African American child was an explosive allegation first uttered by Supt. Arlene Ackerman in her first remarks on the S. Philly incident almost a week after the attacks:

    "What began as an unwarranted off-campus attack on a disabled African American student, quickly escalated into a retaliatory multi-racial attack on primarily Chinese students at the school the following day." (School Reform Commission hearing, Dec. 9, 2009)

    This allegation generated confusion, heightened racial tension, and fueled suspicion citywide. And it was completely unsubstantiated, according to a recent District investigation. In fact, the report raised the likelihood that there’s a totally different version of events than the one Dr. Ackerman put out – that it was in fact Asian immigrant kids who were beaten. It would seem imperative to call for a response from the superintendent who uttered the accusation in the first place. Thus far, Dr.Ackerman has taken a convenient "case closed, move forward" approach. It’s convenient because it doesn’t accept her role in fanning the flames and heightening confusion and suspicion through hearsay and rumor rather than encouraging a thorough inquiry into what led up to the attacks.

    The high road would be to apologize. Instead, there is a deafening silence.

  3. Predatory gambling and the call to revoke Foxwoods license: Today Buzz Bissinger joined the call to revoke Foxwoods’ license. The problem is that while fed-up with the mess, the author, like others, simply says rebid the license at another location to foist the miserable process and even more miserable outcome on other neighborhoods – missing the point that it’s the larger city that suffers.

    Just read Monica Yant Kinney’s column today on the gambling at Parx casino:

    Inside the smoke-filled slots box, much of what casino bosses took for granted has changed. Gone are the days of wooing "whales" and dissing grannies in fanny packs. Parx president Dave Jonas says his revenue comes almost exclusively from local low rollers.

    "We underestimated significantly how many trips our customers were going to make," Jonas said at last month's Pennsylvania Gaming Congress in Valley Forge.

    "When I was in Atlantic City, to have 12 to 15 trips out of customers, they were VIPs," Jonas said. At Parx, "it's not uncommon for us to have 150 to 200 trips."

    Moderator Michael Pollock, a well-regarded casino analyst, paused to digest the statistic.

    "You said 150 to 200 times a year," he repeated. "That's three to four times a week, essentially."

    "Yes," Jonas confirmed, most of his players fit that profile. In fact, because Parx players tend to live within 20 miles of Street Road, many go even more frequently.

    "We have customers," Jonas boasted, "who give us $25, $30 five times a week."

    Is there any question that localized gambling is anything less than predatory? The message around Foxwoods is not to revoke the license so we can surround Philadelphia with yet another of these bottom feeding industries. The message is to revoke the license period and rethink gambling in this city and the Commonwealth. Anything less is just playing power politics rather than protecting the real needs of communities and people throughout our region.

  4. Steve Wynn: There’s no doubt that the Foxwoods fiasco continues on its downhill slide with Steve Wynn angling to gain his way in. As anti-Philadelphia as he is, Wynn is correct on this end – with predatory gambling we have struck a pact with the "dark side" so to speak – a dark side that’s on full display below (thanks to Roxbury News). And as long as city leaders keep that pact, they’ll reap what they sow.

    Steve Wynn Reveals Shocking Ignorance from Ron Stanford on Vimeo.

And not to be a complete sourpuss, I have to say it’s pretty darn cool that Vincent Chin – whose murder politicized a generation of Asian American activists around anti-Asian violence – made the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Really Mr. Governor?

Why grow a conscience now?

"I signed this [table games] bill despite the misgivings I have about it," Rendell said soon afterward at a news conference in his Capitol office. "I have serious misgivings about 'sin' taxes as a way to go. There is no sense of celebration."

Among other thing, it should be noted that the Governor was willing to:

  • Hold up the state budget for more than 100 days to resolve gambling revenue;
  • Hold hostage state universities for months longer, tying their state money to passage of table games;
  • Forego a tax on the billion dollar natural gas industry even though it could bring in the same amount of revenue as table games; and
  • Threatened to lay-off 1,000 state employees in the days leading up to the bill's passage.

Doesn't exactly sound like a man wracked by guilt does it?

Don't be sorry, Mr. Governor. It's not like you were alone in the effort. It took a Supreme Court decision last spring to overturn political gambling contributions. It took the sneaky and possibly illicit lobbying activities of the Pennsylvania Casino Association (headed by the father-daughter team of a former Supreme Court Justice) to ply the legislature. It took millions of dollars in campaign contributions from personal friends and donors.

And look what that bought. As Paul Boni noted in his excellent op-ed last week, the new table games legislation now allows:

  • Slots on credit, because no one should stop gambling just because they ran out of money!
  • Classifies casino employees as “essential workers.” Because no one should value a casino less just because daycares, libraries, parks and rec centers close!
  • Virtually free table games licenses and taxes them at a rate lower than the working poor (16% the first year, 14% from year 2 on out)!
  • Permits members of the Gaming Control Board to be casino employees because who better can regulate the very industry that pays them!

After all, Mr. Governor, think about how much you pinned the state budget on gambling – it’s the second highest revenue generator. Second only to education funding, gambling in PA is your legacy and, if certain lawmakers continue to attack the education formula, it could be your lasting legacy.

Don't back down now. Embrace the PA you created.

Join O'Brien and Thomas in opposing major expansion of predatory gambling

Today, two Philly Democrats, joined the opposition to video poker in the Gaming Oversight Committee.

Watch this video to learn more and please join these two Philly elected officials, Michael O'Brien and Curtis Thomas, in their opposition to video poker. Encourage them to keep voting "no" and help turn other Democrats into no votes. Supporting casinos and the expansion of predatory gambling is not progressive, Democatic, or democratic. Check out the video and take action to stop casinos and the expansion of gambling and corruption in our state.

Jethro Heiko responds to Councilman DiCicco

Below is my response to the following letter from Councilman DiCicco's attorney.

DiCicco Threat Letter

Yesterday, through his attorney, Councilman DiCicco sent me a letter claiming that I defamed him by posting on YPP that the Councilman has engaged in “corruption” to the detriment of our waterfront and city planning. The letter demands an immediate retraction and apology. Rather than respond to his attorney I will post my response here. I will not retract my post nor will I apologize.

I am, however, happy to explain in greater detail what I meant when I referred (and will continue to refer) to the Councilman as a politician who engages in corruption. But let’s get real about the term – it means lacking in integrity, virtue and moral principle; it means a deviation from what is right; it means failing to represent the public interest. It does not mean that the official took a bribe and I have never used it that way. I should be able to use the term when I think the shoe fits. Whether you agree with me or not, I hope you support my right to voice my opinion.

In my post, I said that our Delaware waterfront is in a sorry state due to “his and his mentor’s corruption.” I think this is a obvious and unremarkable assertion. Our waterfront is an embarrassing joke. The control over its development is largely a function of local zoning and land use laws; and the Councilman has been in charge of zoning in the First District for some time now. The gated towers of Waterfront Square, the wholly inappropriate solid walls of the garage at the Hyatt Hotel, the overloading of the southern end and the resulting traffic, I could go on and on and on. We all could.

Our Delaware River Waterfront is one of the City’s greatest assets and its development history and current status is horrendous. Some would even say, rhetorically, that it’s a sin and a crime. Why hasn’t the Councilman changed the zoning on the waterfront in the many years that he has been the district councilperson? Why? And, finally, when we have a fantastic planning effort led by thousands of citizens, guided by Penn Praxis in an open and transparent manner – that gave us the Civic Vision – the Councilman drafts, sponsors and passes a new Zoning Overlay that fails to adopt all the recommendations of the Civic Vision and worse yet, drafts zoning for casinos that exempts them and their satellite parking from that zoning overlay. Sure, he passed some of the recommendations but not the key one about the width of the waterfront setback. Why can’t the Councilman just do what the people want? Why is it so hard? All of that is evidence (on top of what we can see – or not see – when we walk on Delaware Avenue) that his conduct was and is lacking in integrity, virtue and moral principle, that it deviated from what is right and that it is not in the public interest. It gets worse when he claims that he will protect one constituency and neighborhood at the expense of others and attempts, with some success, to divide and conquer. In my view, that is corruption.

And when crafting the zoning legislation which allows Sugarhouse satellite parking, exempting surface parking lots from the new zoning overlay for the Waterfront he opens the door for more corruption at the newly named Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, formerly the Penn’s Landing Corporation. Rather than advancing the civic vision in a transparent way we have an agency, City Council, and Mayor whose vision for the riverfront mirrors that of Neil Bluhm, developer of the proposed Sugarhouse casino, rather than that of the thousands of citizens who spent tens of thousands of hours developing the civic vision.

I think it was wrong for the Councilman to accuse me of defamation. YPP is a place for people to have discussion and debate in a public forum. Yes, when I wrote my post I was mad (and I still am). If the Councilman wants to rebut my statements, if he wants to claim that his stewardship over the development of the waterfront was based on integrity, virtue and moral principle, then he should post a response online. He is a public person and he stands up and takes praise wherever he can get it. But Councilmanic prerogative has to work both ways – it means that the Councilmember is responsible and should be held accountable for the zoning laws in his or her district, especially when there has been as much tinkering in the First District; and especially when he has presided over so many failures and lost opportunities at our waterfront.

Evans Says State-Sanctioned Gambling Is "Change We Can Believe In"

In a recent column, http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/39129332.html, in the Daily News Philadelphia's Dwight Evans made an outrageous comment.

Excerpt:

When I point out to House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans that in the past he was never a fan of funding government through gambling, he says, "People change. We're living in a time of change we can believe in."

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