Why We Need Another Casino in Philadelphia

Build it right downtown.

More than a few organizations are hoping to get a license to operate a casino in the city of Philadelphia. Good for them. One can only imagine the potential riches if these crazy entrepreneurs are willing to undergo the pain of dealing with the politicians, unions, neighbors, media, mob bosses and religious nuts who will fight them each step of the way. I hope one of them prevails. From a business perspective, there should be a casino in Philadelphia. And please, not one that’s run by the city, as proposed by Congressman Bob Brady.

Would I want a casino built in my own neighborhood? Hey, why not? Just think of the excitement of having KC and the Sunshine Band performing just down the street. People don’t want a casino near where they live out of fear for what it would bring to their neighborhoods. And I get that. However, some of the petitions aren’t even proposing to build in residential areas. Building one near the sports complex isn’t going to change what’s already there, is it? Converting that eyesore at 8th and Market could only be an improvement for both the city and its residents. If done the right way, a casino could happily and professionally exist in a Center City business district, even if there are residential pockets nearby.

The biggest issue is security. Casinos can attract undesirables. I’m not a big fan of government regulation, but I’m sure the process will ensure that a casino operator must meet certain security requirements. Visitors need to feel safe walking or driving home with their winnings (as infrequent as this will occur).

A new casino will employ hundreds of people. Maybe thousands. It will create new jobs indirectly too—think security firms and added police, hotels and restaurants nearby, cleaning services, tech firms, alcohol distributors, office supply companies, lawyers, accountants, taxi drivers and so on. Think about the ecosystem required to maintain a 24-hour operation in the middle of a major city, particularly if it’s safe, secure and popular.

And all of these people will be paying taxes. Even the performers will have to cough up a share from their city-generated income. And last I checked, the city needs more revenue. More taxes would pay for better city services, improved roads, more firefighters, better schools and a few computers to replace the typewriters in the police department.

And please, enough with the morality. I’m a Republican when it comes to my business and the economy, but I’m left of center when we talk about people’s personal choices. I get the economic effects of smoking cigarettes on society but a gambling addiction? C’mon. There are addictions for everything in this world. But the pros and cons have to be weighed. I sympathize with people who have a gambling addiction. But I sympathize more with people who don’t have jobs or aren’t able to support their families. I sympathize more with people who do work hard, but don’t make enough and have to send their kids to lousy schools.

One final thing a casino will do for the city: It will make people rich. Not the customers—most of them will lose their shirts. I mean guys like Bart Blatstein. And Steve Wynn. Or the owners of the Goldenberg Group or the Parkway Corporation. Good for them. They’re taking huge risks. They’re dealing with major headaches. They’ll have to pretend they’re fans of Tony Orlando and Rufus Wainright in order to attract them to their casinos. This will not be easy. So whoever succeeds should be handsomely rewarded. Let them tell their friends: Philly’s a great place to do business. Invest here. Take risks here. The city will embrace you. And you will make lots and lots of money. These are the people we want to attract to Philadelphia. These are the people who will invest in our local economy.

So build the casino right downtown. Make it safe. Make it fun. Make money. Bring in entertainers too. The pros are way ahead of the cons. Just do it fast. Those guys from Aerosmith ain’t getting any younger.