PGCB Asks Court To Prevent Further Delays In Opening Philadelphia Slots Facilities
HARRISBURG: The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board filed suit on Thursday with the State Supreme Court challenging an ordinance passed by Philadelphia City Council which would amend the city’s Home Rule charter through a May 15th ballot referendum, thereby restricting the location of legally approved slots casinos and further delaying property tax relief and new jobs.
Board Chairman Tad Decker says the ordinance is illegal since the Gaming Act clearly provides the Board with the authority to locate slot machine facilities.
“This ballot issue is being sold by the Philadelphia City Council to the citizens of Philadelphia as a way to take control of the locations of slots facilities, when in reality it is designed to halt the construction of these facilities along with the resulting jobs, economic development and property tax relief that will be generated,” Decker says.
Decker adds that the Board has an obligation to enforce the Gaming Act now rather than later. He states that losses to citizens due to delays in opening the two Philadelphia Slots facilities would be $140 million every six months, tax revenues that can never be regained.
“We cannot sit idly by and must take this action now because placing this question on the ballot is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars,” he concludes.
The proposed zoning ordinance would prohibit licensed gaming facilities from operating within 1,500 feet of a residentially zoned district, religious building, school or public recreational facility.
Executive Director Anne Neeb says the ballot effort is not only designed to keep slots facilities out of the city but provides a false sense of hope to those who believe enactment of this referendum would override the Board’s legal ability to locate the slots facilities as provided in the Gaming Act.
“This ordinance has the practical effect to completely prohibit gaming in the city of Philadelphia,” says Neeb. “In reality, this attempted action by City Council and anti-casino forces is not only illegal and unconstitutional, but will deprive Philadelphians and all Commonwealth citizens of new jobs and significant tax revenues.”
The Board took this action against the ordinance, passed by the Philadelphia City Council over a Mayoral veto on March 29, 2007, for a number of reasons including the fact that it deprives the Board of its legal authority under the state gaming law to determine the locations of licensed slots facilities in that city, and because the city did not follow both its own procedural requirements and state laws governing the adoption of zoning laws in Philadelphia.
Frank Donaghue, Chief Counsel for the Board, says a majority vote on primary election day would result in an illegal law, so the Board believes it has a responsibility to step in now and stop the ballot question.
“It is very clear that the General Assembly gave the Board the sole discretion to determine the location of these facilities,” Donaghue states, “and we collected a tremendous amount of information and testimony from citizens and public officials in Philadelphia to make our determination and to do so in a legal manner.”
Donaghue says the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over this matter since the Gaming Act vested that Court to receive appeals involving zoning actions.
In its petition, the Board cites a number of reasons why the ballot question should be removed. Among these are:
- The Effect of the Referendum is an Unreasonable Zoning Requirement: The ordinance has the practical effect of completely restricting gaming in the City of Philadelphia without any connection to public health, safety or welfare, and therefore is an arbitrary, unnecessary and unreasonable intermeddling with the private ownership of property
- The Gaming Act Repeals/Limits the City’s Zoning Powers: While the City has zoning powers, the General Assembly did grant the Gaming Board the sole authority to select the locations of the slots facilities in the City. Therefore, to the extent that the City’s zoning powers conflict with Board’s statutory and sole authority to select locations for casinos, the Gaming Act controls.
- The Referendum is Not a Valid Means for a Zoning Amendment: The Commonwealth Court has found that a zoning ordinance cannot be amended by referendum. Based on this ruling and other state laws, the Board believes the City has no power to amend zoning ordinances via a referendum. In addition, the City’s own Home Rule Charter Act does not specifically provide for amendments for zoning ordinances by referendum with these ordinances typically enacted via accepted municipal procedures.
- The City Did Not Follow Proper Procedures to Enact a Zoning Amendment: In its effort to expedite this matter, the City Council did not provide sufficient notice of its public hearing on the proposed zoning question in the ordinance as required by code. In addition, the City Council’s resolution, bill, and public hearing to enact the ordinance were premised on a voter petition that was subsequently ruled invalid.
A copy of the filing is available at the Board’s web site (www.pgcb.state.pa.us) by choosing the special link on the home page titled “Petition for Review of Philadelphia Referendum.”
Under the Horse Race Development and Gaming Act, the Board has jurisdiction over every aspect of the authorization, operation and regulation of gaming in the Commonwealth. The Board awarded five licenses to stand alone slot casinos at its December 20, 2006 public meeting including two in Philadelphia to HSP Gaming, LP (SugarHouse Casino) and Philadelphia Entertainment & Development Partners, LP (Foxwoods Casino). The decision was made following the nearly year-long collection of written and publicly-delivered information from citizens, public officials, and applicants.