Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Can we have some honesty about the Philadelphia casinos?

The latest uncritical puff piece in support of the Philadelphia millionaires' anti-casino "movement" comes from the Philadelphia Weekly, which managed this week to print a few pages on the issue without once suggesting that most Philadelphians have no problem with the casinos. The multiple-page piece didn't carry a single word in favor of the developments from anyone. You'd think that there aren't any people in favor of this at all, which begs the question as to how the issue is controversial. We appear to have abandoned alternative journalism in favor of an "alternative to journalism."

Let me state right out that I live near the intersection of Front & Wharton Sts.
, in other words closer to a casino site than 99.999% of all of the people who claim that such development would wreck their lives. Let me also state that I'm of the firm opinion that the proposed development on that site would be the best possible thing for the city and for my neighborhood.

I've heard all of the anti-casino arguments, including and especially the very ugly racist ones that don't make the press, because I live here and I've had NIMBY neighbors pedal their petitions in my direction. I'm white and any number of idiots assume that puts us all in a Klan-like club which allows one to make virulently racist statements to each other with no consequences.

I'll try to tackle this in bullet points.

- The casino opponents are overtly racist. There are vertical stripes of ethnicity in South Philly. I live in a traditionally white (Irish/Polish/Lithuanian) stripe along the Delaware River. Immediately west of East Moyamensing Ave. we have a black neighborhood (including Section 8 housing and a housing project), as well as Mexican immigrants and Vietnamese shopping. The latter two groups saved Washington Avenue and the "Italian" Market from the empty, scary ghetto both were
when I moved down here a decade ago. I had a couple of neighbors encourage me to fight the casinos because the "niggers and Mexicans" would be "in our neighborhood" if the casino were built east of us. Yes, a grown woman in 2006 actually used the dreaded N-word in favor of her position to me while circulating a petition. No exaggeration. (If you think it was shocking to read that in a sentence on this blog, imagine your neighbors using it as a point of persuasion.) There was also a concern that there would be jobs, sure, but "the Mexicans" would get them. Anyone who doesn't realize how fear of the east-west movement of people in a north-south arrangement of race-based communities is driving a lot of this crap is ill-informed at best.

When I moved down here there was a thriving hoagie shop at the corner of 2nd & Federal called Joanne's. It was owned by a white couple. They moved to another location about 6 years ago. A year later the property was still empty. Eventually a Chinese family bought the property and applied for business permits to open a Chinese restaurant. The same neighbors who are now against the casino put out a petition to stop the permits, citing "traffic" and "crime," the same anti-casino arguments (and never an issue with honkies selling hoagies). This is what the petition read, but the person who approached me told me the petition was to "keep the Orientals out." My neighbors won. Eventually a developer bought the plot, and built a $400,000 rowhouse which is still empty. Good job, jackasses.

Has anyone ever seen anyone who isn't white battling the casinos? I haven't. This is in a city in which us white folks are less than half of the population.

- The casino opponents are subtly racist. A local African-American consortium of business and civic leaders are the majority ownership of the Foxwoods site. The concessions that have been made to taxation, community reinvestment and charity that they've pushed on this project are better than I've ever seen out of any other business development plan, and I think that's terrific. Our society would be better on all fronts if every business were designed with these considerations. The minority partners are (some surviving) Native Americans in New England. Am I the only person who thinks attitudes toward the management would be somewhat different if these people were white?

Has anyone ever seen anyone who isn't white battling the casinos? I haven't. This is in a city in which us white folks are less than half of the population.

- The casino opponents are selfish. Far from being the economic victims they have uniformly been depicted as in the press, the anti-casino people are economic aggressors. Slanted economic models based in radically dissimilar communities such as Biloxi, Mississippi have suggested that home owners within a certain proximity of a casino might possibly lose as much as 4% of their home's property value. Housing prices in this area of Philadelphia have increased 100-300% over the past decade or so, even though wages and other prices have not. In other words, there is a drastic overvaluing of properties which makes it hard for the average Philadelphian to buy a house any longer, and is clearly part of the nationwide housing bubble.

What nerve it takes to try and force city and state government to refuse economic development from a private source in order to ensure a 100% retention of the highest valuation of your private housing investment! Newsflash: this is not the function of government.

What makes this particularly offensive is that many of the casino opponents are taking advantage of the 10 year tax abatement scam, in which people who can afford to buy a new house pay nothing in property tax while the people who lived in the city their whole lives pick up their slack.

- The casino opponents are none too good at logic. Hand in hand with the last point, why precisely would your housing price dropping 4% be a bad thing? If you're planning on staying, that would drop your property tax assessment (assuming you are paying any property taxes as per above). If you're planning on moving, why should I care what you think about the casinos here, or anything else for that matter? I've never seen anyone attempt to address this obvious major flaw in the anti-casino logic.

Another argument which cracks me up is the notion that the casino traffic will choke off traffic movement in the area. Assuming the most selfish motivations possible to the casino (only fair), why in hell would they hire a traffic consultation firm to design things in such a way that no one could get to them? Obviously and clearly any business is going to try and make sure that they know that customers can access them before dropping a few hundred million of their own dollars on a site.

- The casino opponents are selfish. I know I'm repeating this one, but these people are incredibly selfish. Philadelphia has more impoverished people than any other city of its size in the country. We're #5 on the Forbes new Misery Index. We have more functionally illiterate people than college grads. What kind of jackhole does one then have to be to protest an entry-level casino job fair in South Philly? The kind of college-educated jackhole who doesn't need a job as a waitress, maid, janitor, clerk, parking attendant, union construction worker, electrician, plumber etc. The kind of jackhole who doesn't have any friends who do that sort of thing for a living. The kind of jackhole so isolated from the realities of most of Philadelphia's (and America's) population that the prospect of 2,000+ jobs is something to sneeze at, because of the possibility of losing 4% of one's inflated housing value. For most this isn't even losing money, simply not making as much when they leave!

I suppose that the anti-casino people expect the 2,500 people who'll remain out of work to simply go back to grad school and get that comparative lit PhD, or open an aromatherapy salon, or let their neurosurgeon husband pay the bills. Y'know, like normal people.

- The casino opponents are intolerant moralists/classists. Since they would never be caught dead playing the slots, it's recommended that you not be allowed to either. As if we're still in the 19th century, otherwise liberal people will claim with a straight face that working class people lack the intelligence to gamble responsibly, therefore they need government intervention to keep them on the straight and narrow. (Many of these same people have e-trading accounts because they have Wall Street all figured out.)

One of my neighbors also suggested I might want to sign the petition because the casinos would draw in unsightly old ladies in... perish the thought... buses.

When I've pointed out that the casino plans include a live theater, this has been met with the complaint that it will just feature low-brow crap. Apparently live entertainment has to be unpopular
enough to need government arts funding before some people see this as a boon to the community. Newsflash: Many things you don't like are legal. Deal with it.

Grandma and Grandpa might well have beaten the freakin' Nazis while raising a family and building the world's highest standard of living for their children and grandchildren. If they want to be able to legally gamble away $40 each on video poker one quarter at a time in their own city on a Tuesday afternoon during a hard-earned retirement, I can't imagine what mewling pipsqueak thinks they're hot shit enough to tell them they're not allowed because they're irresponsible.

We're awash in a moralist morass in which non-ironically self-described liberals now expect the city and state to restrict what and where we can all eat, smoke, skateboard and so forth. In my experience virtually all of the people on the side of banning everything are transplants from other places, and the unorganized people in favor of laissez faire recreation are hard-working working class Philadelphia natives who have quietly kept the city from becoming a screaming shithole over the past few decades, thereby allowing the anti-casino banshees to buy a house worth squat to begin with. Much of the rhetoric of the NIMBYs is based in the claim that they are saving the children, which is precisely what people who want to ban a legal adult activity always start with when they can't make a constitutional argument on an issue's own merit. "Lord, save us from the saviors!"

I'll stick this here: I live two blocks from a proposed site and would not in any conceivable way be able to see, hear, smell, taste or feel the casino from my place. 99.9% of the casino opponents wouldn't be able to either. I live "close" to the casinos, which means I have a half-block to Front Street, at which we find a 4-story meat packing facility blocking our view of the casino. Then we have a two-lane street, a sidewalk, eight lanes of I-95 at four-story height (with traffic noise day and night and lights every night all night), then a sidewalk, then three lanes of traffic (Delaware Ave.), railroad track, two more lanes of traffic in the other direction, another sidewalk, and then the
beginning of the casino property, much of which juts into the river. You have to be insane to claim that that location is a disturbance.

America is awash with generic suburbs to which anyone with the do-re-mi is free to move and never need to encounter a thought or sight untoward. If living within a half-mile of a casino is really that much of an aesthetic nightmare for you, you need not to be living in a city. Any city. Cities are for people who can handle diversity, including class diversity. The last thing you need to do is remake my city to your whitebread specifications. I've seen casinos blend into Copenhagen, Berlin, Paris and Helsinki (or Monaco, anyone..?). If that's ruining a place, gimmie ruination!

Are we really so naive to begin with that we think there isn't gambling in
South Philly already? Let's start with the Pennsylvania Lottery...

- The casino opponents are lying drama queens. The average slot player is a middle-aged woman. I do not expect this demographic to start a crime wave in my neighborhood. If the Show'n"Tell and Club Risque haven't managed to start a wave of prostitution on Delaware Avenue over the past decade, I predict 25 cent slots will not either. Call me a dreamer...

I do expect increased police presence in my neighborhood, as well as 100% easier access to a cab and the restoration of at least one SEPTA bus line. Of course the anti-casino "movement" is largely made up of people who own cars and never ride the bus, who did not protest our loss of local bus lines a few years back, and who could frankly give a shit.

Every casino opponent I've met has substituted the oft-cited traffic study's total projected traffic post- casino for the projected increase, thereby exaggerating the traffic increase several times. At best this is an inability to read for meaning, at worst a lie.

There is a persistent lie that the casinos want to use eminent domain to force people from their homes. I would be very much against that if true. Here's the problem: so far as anyone can tell, this hasn't happened and there are no plans for it. How about we deal with real problems instead of gaining sympathy by creating fake ones?

There is the absurd claim that the casino traffic would block emergency vehicles from reaching us, and therefore the site is a "deathtrap." I call bullshit. For one thing all of the firehouses are on this side of I-95, not the casino's, which would be located on a peninsula jutting into the Delaware. Until the fire department starts deploying from Camden via Marine Corps-style beach landings this remains the weakest of arguments. In point of fact the city payroll taxes alone from the casinos would be more than enough to re-open the three (count 'em!) Center City firehouses that the city closed a couple years back because of a budget crunch.

If your overvalued house burns down in a few years, it's more likely than not because you blocked the only source of refunding your local boarded-up firehouse. Nice work, Einstein!

- The casino opponents find the Enlightenment inconvenient, and therefore wish to recall it. Two reasons for this argument:

1) The ballot initiative the anti-casino people tried putting on the ballot would
have barred casinos within conveniently-worded distances from churches. Hello? First Amendment..? Do we really want to open this floodgate? How about "no bars within 100 yards of a Scientology Center"? Like that one? "No skirts within 100 feet of a mosque." "No bars open on Sunday." Hello..?

This is supposed to save the children. Last time I checked, children weren't allowed in casinos, but get anally raped in our churches with impunity. And what about those ubiquitous church bingo and carnival nights..? Who will save the children?! Speaking of which, if your children are wandering off across several lanes of traffic without your knowledge, I don't think the casinos should be your primary concern.

2) Casino opponents regularly claim that they have a right to block construction based in owning real estate, clearly more than renters who might get jobs, or anyone who'd like to visit the casino. Really? Wow, that happens to be moving in the opposite direction of hard-won social progress over the past 200 years or so, but OK. Let's bite on that one. So... if people gain rights by having property... and the casino has more valuable property than you... is this really the particular Pandora's Box we want to open? You can't argue for this and against eminent domain simultaneously. You can, of course, and people do, but not without coming off as the most base hypocrite.

- The casino opponents are a tiny minority. Only a small number of wealthy white property owners (and a few hangers-on they've convinced that the sky is falling) are up in arms over the casinos. The "alternative referendum" they held had pitiful participation, suggesting a "movement" of about 2% of Philadelphia's voting age population. Everyone else in the city sees jobs, maybe a spot of fun and some tax revenue. What does it say about how removed Center City journalists are from most of the city's residents that the opponents come off as an overwhelming majority?

- The casino opponents have no alternative plan whatever to create over 2,000 jobs and shore up the city's tax base with hundreds of millions in private investment.
Worse, they don't even think they have any responsibility to do so. What a bunch of selfish, myopic, fearmongering wankers.

Intelligent comments on this, like any other issue presented here, are always welcome. I promise not to censor negative comments as the anti-casino "neighborhood chat boards" have done with me.

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Anonymous said...

I don't care if they build it in my living room, I could just really use a wage tax reduction. Like, really, really. I'd rather do it without a tax on people who can't do math, but I'm selfish. Duh.

Anonymous said...


Garrett said...

That's one hell of an argument, Chris. But you know, I can't help but to think, like with the city smoking ban, Walmarts and other things, that people will easily adapt to this and even embrace it in a short amount of time.

QuizMasterChris said...

Garrett - Do you mean adapt to having the casino there, or adapt to the anti-casino agenda? Regardless, I don't think people should ever have to adapt to local government and/or pressure groups chipping away at perfectly legal/constitutional behavior. There are few things that irk me more than a "back door" ban, when localities know they can't pass a constitutional law against something, but make it impossible for the individual to enjoy that right.

For example, right now it's legal to have casinos in Philadelphia, legal for the business to operate, for people to work there and for patrons to gamble. Only no one can do any of those things because instead of fighting to change that law head-on (a losing battle because they are such a minority), the anti-casino jihad attacks where the casinos can locate. That way you can violate any number of people's rights without ever having to worry about piddling details like the rule of law.

Same thing with the smoking ban. Some people want to make smoking disappear, but since you could never pass a law against it they try to ban smoking on private property (already banned on public property, which is perfectly reasonable) and tax it absurdly. Claim people are hopelessly addicted while simultaneously taxing them extra as if that alone would make it easy to quit.

It's really the political method of the tyrant and coward. For the record, I don't gamble and don't smoke. I just don't want people telling me I can't when the law says I can.

Anonymous said...

sounds like all the casino opponents must've also voted for Sam Katz.

Chrissy said...

they didn't vote for sam katz they voted for john street and said "look how awesome i am for voting for a black man"

also, chris I want to marry you for this post kthnx.

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