Casino-Free Philadelphia Finds New Life With The Second Casino Proposal

A sign outside of SugarHouse Casino

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will convene this week to discuss the five proposals in play for Philadelphia’s second and final casino license. A final decision is unlikely to come out of this meeting, but Board chairman William H. Ryan Jr. would like to determine the recipient within two months of the initial hearings that took place on February 26th.

Meaning, a decision is close.

Casino-Free Philadelphia is a small organization run by volunteers. photo credit
Casino-Free Philadelphia is a small organization run by volunteers. photo credit

As Philadelphia’s second casino becomes more of a reality, so too does the largest organization in opposition to a second casino, Casino-Free Philadelphia. A coalition of anti-casino organizations in the city that began in 2006, Casino-Free Philadelphia has been largely inactive since 2010. That year, Philadelphia saw both the opening of SugarHouse, the city’s first casino, and the revoking of the city’s second license from the Foxwoods group two months later.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board revoked the $50 million casino license that was awarded to the Foxwoods group after the project that was supposed to be located along the Delaware River was stalled as a result of strong opposition and financial reasons. Casino-Free Philadelphia was a major player in getting the license revoked.

“It was a big victory and we thought it was great,” said Dan Hajdo, member of the Board of Directors at Casino Free Philadelphia. “But we also knew it was probably a matter of time before (another casino) came down the pike again.”

Despite the fact that Casino-Free Philadelphia was able to help revoke the second license, the organization run strictly by volunteers was very disappointed that SugarHouse was up and running in the city.

According to Casino-Free’s website, their mission is to “stop casinos from coming to Philadelphia and close any that

Dan Hajdo, member of the Casino-Free Philadelphia Board of Directors
Dan Hajdo, member of the Casino-Free Philadelphia Board of Directors

open.” The website offers people with information about casinos, facts about predatory gambling, press releases and updates. The organization never has had a large staff or big office space during their existence.

After Sugarhouse opened, Casino-Free Philadelphia began to fall off the map. The organization was inactive mainly due to the fact that there was nothing really to report on or protest against concerning casinos in the city for a few years. When looking at their website, the last update on their blog was posted back in March, 2013.

Currently, Casino-Free Philadelphia has shifted their attention to helping raise awareness and give information about the issues and potential problems with casinos to other groups fighting against casinos in the city.

“We still have the same concerns in the sense that SugarHouse is still up and running,” said Hajdo. “But that is an entirely different thing than trying to stop a casino from coming in.”

With a lot of news surfacing about the five new applicants fighting for the second license over the past few months, Casino-Free Philadelphia has been given new life.

“What the second casino has actually done was sort of given us a new way of reaching more people,” said Hajdo. “It is going to put the casino issue back on the map for the general public.”

However, the small organization’s new life is not evident on their website or anywhere else.

Hajdo and other members of the organization work with the coalition No Second Casino in Philadelphia to get information about casinos out to the public. Additionally, members attend coalition meetings and act as contacts for other people and organizations.

SugarHouse Casino opened in 2010
SugarHouse Casino opened in 2010

For Hajdo and the rest of the organization, the concern is not about what neighborhood or location the casino is built in, but about the inevitable problems that come with every casino such as crime and gambling addiction.

“The reason that Casino-Free does not oppose it in just one spot is that it doesn’t matter where you put it, there’s going to be problems caused by it,” said Hajdo. “The main concern is that casinos profit from gambling addiction.”

Gambling addiction is a huge deal to the organization because the people who suffer from it are usually the people who cannot afford to be gambling in the first place. According to Hajdo, the addiction to gambling destroys people’s lives and can even go as far as destroying families.

“Casinos sometimes bring in people who are losing money,” said Veronica Joyner, Chief Administrative Officer at the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences School of Philadelphia in a recent interview. “People would be more likely to rob you so that they can go back to the casino and gamble.”

Recently, Ken Goldenberg, one of the main people behind the Market8 proposal, has stated that he would make an effort to help addicted gamblers through his foundation, People Helping People (PHP). However, the program does not appear to be established and there is nothing about the PHP gambling addiction amelioration program on their website.

“He (Goldenberg) is a philanthropists at heart and he loves helping people,” said Philadelphia Councilman Mark Squilla of Goldenberg in a recent interview. “They have already opened up a place in Chinatown to help gambling addiction.”

Squilla also added that he thought it was possible that Goldenberg opening up a location to help gambling addiction could be a political move to help him get a better shot at the casino license.

“If he wants to ameliorate concerns about gambling addiction he should use whatever money he is spending on the casino development to increase treatment for gambling addiction,” said Hajdo. “I’m not going to congratulate someone who punches me in the nose and then gives me a Band-Aid to stop the bleeding.”

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