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PHILADELPHIA-The city council has overridden Mayor John Street’s veto of legislation that would put a referendum regarding casino locations on the May 15 primary election ballot. Like the legislation that called for the referendum, this vote was also unanimous.

Specifically, it asks voters to decide on a change in the city charter, which would ban casino development within 1,500 feet of a residence, school or house of worship. In a letter to the council, Street said a change in the charter “would effectively prohibit licensed gaming on the two sites selected by the Gaming Control Board or at any location in Philadelphia where gaming is economically viable.” The board granted slots licenses to Foxwoods and SugarHouse.

He called gaming “crucial” to the growth of the hospitality industry and expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, noting that 5% of the expected $3 billion in annual gaming taxable revenue is to help fund the center’s expansion. He also said approximately $100 million in annual revenue would fund reduction of the city’s wage tax, and $25 million in casino host fees would fund the school district over five years.

He also pointed out that the legislation is illegal, because the state law that created the Gaming Control Board gave it the exclusive right to select sites. The city is in negotiations with the casino developers on “critically important issues,” he said, and, if a change in the charter is passed, the city could lose the control it has.

Meanwhile, Casino-Free Philadelphia, a prime promoter of the referendum, claims to have uncovered a 2002 zoning law that prohibits any venue devoted primarily to “entertainment of guests and patrons” and which applies to the SugarHouse site. Daniel Hunter, coordinator of the group, says it was designed to protect neighborhoods “from being taken over by nightclubs.”

Both Gov. Ed Rendell and the Gaming Control Board have said the city council’s vote is contrary to the law creating the board and its authority. This leaves little question that the final judgment on the referendum will be make by the State Supreme Court.

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