This Sunday, 60 Minutes will be airing a feature on gambling â slot machines, in particular â and whether the machines themselves might be ... addictive.
That this *shocking* possibility still evades nearly every mainstream news outlet in Pennsylvania is another story, consideringÂ the abundance of evidence readily available at your local casino.
In any case, The 60 Minutes piece, called "The Big Gamble," appears to contain something of a gem: In a preview (available online), Governor Ed Rendell appears to flip out on the reporters, calling them "simpletons," and "idiots" if they "dont get that," â althought what "that" is isn't clear from the clip.
It looks like it'll be an interesting watch, and there's a bonus: expect Ben Franklin flanked by sequin-bikini-clad women, from the opening of Sugarhouse in September.
Since having its license finally revoked by the Pennsylvania gaming Control Board last week, the Casino Formerly Known as Foxwoods has been much in the news.
But another story seems to be slipping through the cracks: even without the (presumed) competition from a second Philadelphia casino, Sugarhouse Casino, which opened in September, has shown a surprisingly poor performance.
City Paper finds that Sugarhouse is bringing in less than half the revenue it told the state to expect just six months ago.
In two presentations in May, Sugarhouse offered the Gaming Board revenue estimates that bear little resemblance to the business the casino has brought in so far.
On May 13, Sugarhouse officials made a presentation estimating $240M in net slots revenues for its first year in business with $132M going directly to the state or city in taxes and local share assessment. On May 19, Sugarhouse repeated those projections in another presentation.
Let's do some math: 240 million expected total slot revenue / 52 weeks = 4.6 million per week â right?
And $132 million in tax revenue for the state and city / 52 weeks = $2.5 million weekly â right?
But Sugarhouse isn't bringing in close to that much.
Even during its opening week, Sugarhouse reported just $$3.6M in revenue â still less than the target $4.6.
Since then, slot revenues have dropped by half: last week, they raked in $1.86 million before taxes: that's about forty percent what they're supposed to be making.
To be fair, Sugarhouse's table games are actually ahead of schedule, bringing roughly double the projected amount. But they account for much less of the casino's total earnings: even if table games bring double the expected revenue, it would amount to $5 million dollars extra. The current slots earnings, meanwhile, suggest the casino may bring in as much as $38 million less than expected.
As state officials prepare to bid another casino license for Philadelphia, maybe it's worth asking whether a second casino â or even a first â is even remotely viable.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board revoked the license for the proposed South Philly casino (formerly known as Foxwoods Casino), after investor asked â yet again â for an extention to find financing.
The decision does not, however, mean that the state has decided against building a second casino in Philadelphia, as directed by Act 71, the 2004 surprise legislation that legalized casinos in Pennsylvania in a single late-night session.
The Board will, presumably, seek new proposals for a new casino. This news comes, however, amid surprisingly low performance by Sugarhouse Casino, which saw a drastic decline in revenue after opening and has been significantly below state goals â all raising the question of whether the proliferation of casinos has reached a saturation point.
Casino Free Philadelphia, a grassroots organization that opposes casinos in the city, issued the following statement via email:
We know the fight is not over. Assuming the Foxwoods revocation stands, the PGCB will now seek to solicit new bids from other companies for a second casino in Philadelphia. We'll continue to fight against a casino anywhere in the city.
Our objective now is to prevent the casino rebidding process from taking place -- all while keeping pressure on SugarHouse through our Casino Town Watch, exposing the casino's predatory tactics and making clear the community opposition any casino in Philadelphia will face.
Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board granted yet another deadline extension to the proposed South Philly casino that was to be operated by Foxwoods, and which is now courting a partnership with Harrah's Entertainment.
Investors now have until Dec. 16 now to produce a business agreement with Harrah's or face the revocation of their license (or, judging by history, simply get another deadline extension!).
Meanwhile, the latest plans for the Casino Formerly Known As Foxwoods have been revealed and what they reveal is a plan that contrasts starkly to that presented back in 2007, when Pennsylvania casinos still pretended to be "destination," not "convenience." casinos, with hotels, pretty landscaping, and other amenities, like an "Asian gaming room."
That detail avails itself just after Asian Americans United's Helen Gym circulated an ad, posted by Sugarhouse, seeking an "Asian Marketing Executive" for the casino exactly the kind of targeted marketing Asian community activists feared when the casino was nearly moved to Chinatown.
Meanwhile, the casino's design concept has changed substantially. (Pictures thanks to the Inquirer).
Here's Foxwoods a la 2007: Note the multi-level parking lot and terraced lawn, and long promenade. As late as 2008, Foxwoods was still talking about a having a hotel.
Here's the most recent plan:
Over the weekend, the Inquirer published an article about crime at SugarHouse, claiming that before Friday's pistol-whipping, "police had received three reports of crime at SugarHouse since the casino's Sept. 23 opening: two reports of theft from cars in the parking lot, and one of a broken car window."
City Paper found otherwise.
According to statistics from the Philadelphia Police Department (see below), there have been 22 reports of crime not four since the casino's opening: one robbery by handgun, three reports of theft from cars, two reports of theft that occurred elsewhere, one report of fraudulent conversion, three reports of private-property vandalism, two D.U.I.s, four reports of disorderly conduct, and six reports of trespassing.
This is an especially egregious error given the general theme of the article that SugarHouse is "one of the most thoroughly policed areas in the city," and Friday's pistol-whipping criminals "defeated tight security." How can you quantify how good or bad security is without accurate statistics?
Two months after the casino's opening, it's too soon to judge security, really. It's also too soon to know if SugarHouse will provide another example of how casinos bring more violent crime to communities, as economist Earl Grinols and others argue.
Maybe it isn't a surprise that SugarHouse Casino didn't offer a public apology after three women were mugged, and one pistol whipped in the SugarHouse parking on their way into the casino (making it the second SugarHouse-related pistol whipping, after the same fate befell a gambler who'd been followed home after leaving). After all, they odds that they're about to be facing a lawsuit aren't bad, and perhaps SugarHouse doesn't feel like apologizing would be consistent with a "not our fault" claim in court.
Still, it was hard not to notice in the terse press release issued by SugarHouse the following day the odd emphasis its executives seemed to place on the fact that the three women were entering, and not leaving, the casino. Here's the release (emphasis added):
At approximately 1 a.m. three women were followed from an off-site location into our parking lot. Before ever entering the casino, surveillance footage indicates that two men approached and mugged the women.
On the phone, spokesman Mike Gross told CP the phrase had been included simply to point out that the women had not been followed out as had the last person pistol-whipped after going to SugarHouse.
SugarHouse Casino has a fleet of round-the-clock security personnel, in addition to an onsite Pennsylvania State Police barracks. With 500 surveillance cameras recording 24/7, the entire incident was captured on film, and footage has been turned over to Philadelphia Police.
SugarHouse will continue cooperating fully with authorities as the investigation continues.
Notice the emphasis on the fact that the women had come from "off-site" (where else would they come from?) and that this happened "before they had ever entered the casino."
These details matter . . . why? The women, after all, were assaulted on their way into the casino, and on its property, right? CP put it to Gross plainly: does the casino accept responsibility for happened or not? But as to that question, we haven't heard back.
Even as Foxwoods continues to plead for a second chance to build a second Philadelphia casino, now with Harrah's as management, Sugarhouse Casino's revenues have dropped almost every week since it opened, according to figures released by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB).
|Revenue (in millions of dollars, on left) over the past six weeks|
Of course you've been waiting, as we have, with near-uncontrollable anticipation for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's annual "Diversity Report" â and finally, it's out.
It contains various tidbits of interesting info the fact, for example that Harrah's Chester, nestled in an almost all-black city has managed to get away with not disclosing information regarding the diversity of its workforce for a second year in a row
Nonetheless, says the report, "The Diversity Officer is of the opinion that the entity has engaged in a good faith effort to promote and ensure diversity in its operations."
Who needs numbers when you've got opinions?
But one piece of info missing this year is a figure we found most interesting last year: the annual turnover rate of casino employees, which seemed, at the time, surprisingly high:
According to the 2008 Diversity Report, employee turnover ranged from 24%-66% â in other words, some casinos saw more than half their employees gone within a year of being hired.
PGCB spokesman Richard McGarvey told CP in an email that while the PGCB did not include those figures this time around, "There has been no significant change in the turnover rate from the 2008 report to this report."
Anyone out there work at a PA casino, or know someone who does? Do these seemingly-high turnover rates ring true and, if so, what's behind them?
Eleven people, including lobbyists, casino operators and 4 Alabama state senators, have been indicted for a "conspiracy" to help pass favorable legislation in exchange for campaign contributions and other campaign help â like the appearance of country music stars at rallies.
According to the indictment, which you can read in its entirety here:
Alabama State legislators and legislative staff, as agents of the State of Alabama, corruptly solicited, demanded, accepted and agreed to accept money and things of value from defendants and others, intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with pro-gambling legislation.
What's most striking about the alleged crime is, well, how un-striking it really is â especially by the standards of Pennsylvania.
Our Great Commonwealth places almost no limits whatsoever on campaign contributions.
The key notion in these allegations, of course, is that the politicians "corruptly" accepted money and things of value, "intending to be influenced."
In Pennsylvania, politicians â Democrats especially â have received vast amounts of money from pro-gambling interests, and have voted favorably for all kinds of concessions to casinos â their legalization, of course, but also such goodies as the ability to extend credit to slots players (a nicety packed quietly into the recent table games bill).
It's all perfectly legal â as long as those politicians don't "intend to be influenced" by the wads of money they receive.
I'm reminded in particular of the case of lobbyist Stephen Wojdak, which I wrote about during the table games debate last winter. Wojdak, a powerful lobbyist said to have a hand in all legislation casino-related, and who represents several casinos, controls a political action committee which has given generously to Harrisburg lawmakers.
As the table games legislation was being drafted, an obscure clause appeared in it that would favor one casino venture, that he represented, over another. Asked if he held any interest in the favored casino, Wojdak did not reply to several inquiries.
I should emphasize that I'm not implying any crime here. On the contrary: I'm implying this kind of stuff is business as usual.
|Casino-related child abandonment: the Simpsons saw it coming (S05E10, 1993)|
As casino gambling in Pennsylvania amps up, so too, apparently, do instances of parents leaving children unattended - sometimes for hours - in casino parking lots while they gamble.
It's happened â that is, the parents have been caught â at least five times in the last two months at Parx casino alone. In one case, a man left a 15-month baby in a running car.
Most recently, Sharon Belek, 35:
... was charged Thursday with child endangerment for leaving her 8- and 15-year old daughters in the parking lot on Aug. 1 while she played the slot machines - for six hours.
The teenage daughter - stuck with a nonworking cell phone - flagged down a passerby at about 12:30 a.m. and borrowed a phone to call her father.
Enter the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which announced at a meeting this month its displeasure with the instances of child abandonment.
The Board might have used this as an opportunity to reexamine how much of casino activity is, in fact, what most of us would consider problem or compulsive gambling (a prominent study suggests as much as two-thirds).
But that would be, well, un-Board-like. The PGCB, after all, has the dual mission of regulating gambling on the one hand and ensuring its profitibility and success on the other.
Instead, the Board focused on parking lot security â which is well and good â but not, Parx claims, its responsibility.
Parx is apparently only responsible according to state law for security inside its facility. And so the casino pointed its finger, in turn, at local police, who, in turn, said they cannot patrol Parx' 7,000-car lot.
Commented Bensalem public safety chief Fred Harran:
"We've had calls through the years with kids left in shopping center, but what's making this hot is that we've had five in just a two-month period," said Fred Harran, public safety director in Bensalem. "The gambling addiction, the glitter of it all, people go into gamble and forget the kids. I just don't get it."
It's a revealing statement, and one of the first times we've seen public officials come out and say that casinos are attracting (perhaps creating?) addicts.
While the Gaming Board and casinos try to figure out how to make this ugly little problemo disappear, maybe the rest of us ought to start asking if the problem isn't so much what's happening in casino parking lots as inside slot parlors.
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