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PHILADELPHIA-Citizens who oppose casino development near residential neighborhoods won a round in the city council. It voted unanimously to have a referendum regarding casino locations placed on the May 15 mayoral primary ballot.

The measure would allow voters to decide on a change in the city charter banning casino development within 1,500 feet of any residence, school, playground, church or similar neighborhood property. If passed, it would effectively block plans for development of Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia on Columbus Boulevard and SugarHouse Casino on North Delaware Avenue. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board awarded those projects the two slots licenses designated for Philadelphia.

Mayor John Street could, but has not yet indicated he would, veto the council’s decision. It would take 12 of the 17 council members to override such a veto. Furthermore, the state legislature could overturn the council’s decision. In a statement, Gov. Ed Rendell says, “There are fundamental constitutional questions about the city council’s actions that we expect will be addressed in court proceedings.”

A spokesman for the PGCB tells GlobeSt.com the board “is exploring a challenge to the city council vote and evaluating what actions we can take and would take.” Any challenge would be based on the premise that the vote is “contrary” to the legislation permitting slots parlors in the state.

Principals from Sugarhouse and Foxwoods declined interviews and issued statements. The SugarHouse statement says, “This was a vote against thousands of construction jobs, tax relief for everyone who lives and works in Philadelphia and millions of dollars for our schools.”

Foxwoods’ statement expresses disappointment in the vote and says a referendum “supports an unconstitutional ordinance.” It says supporters of the ordinance could have formerly intervened during the PGCB’s proceedings, but did not, and concludes, “Today’s vote was against jobs and tax relief, and sends a message to business that Philadelphia is not a city that welcomes positive economic development.”

The city council vote was formally initiated when Casino-Free Philadelphia, a citizen group that coordinates with neighborhood associations, gathered 27,000 signatures calling for this referendum. Daniel Hunter, the organization’s coordinator, tells GlobeSt.com, “If the board had made a good decision, this wouldn’t be happening and the outrage wouldn’t have escalated. We’re not anti-casinos and we are pro-development. There’s a place for casinos, but they don’t belong next to neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, the PGCB spokesman confirms that five petitions for review of the board’s decisions regarding Philadelphia casino awards have been filed with the State Supreme Court. Four are by citizen groups and the fifth is by Riverwalk Casino LP, which was denied a Philadelphia gaming license. The two applicants that were denied licenses for Pittsburgh locations and one that was denied a Pocono location have also filed petitions for review with the court. Oral arguments on the review petitions are set for May 15.

PGCB has filed an application asking the court to require the losing casino applicants that have filed appeals to post security bonds. In a statement, board chairman Tad Decker calls the lawsuits “baseless” and charges that the subsequent delays cost commonwealth citizens money. The statement calls for the following bond amounts: approximately $84 million each from Station Square Gaming and IOC Pittsburgh, nearly $58 million from Pocono Manor and almost $138.5 million from Riverwalk.

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