Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pa. Supreme Court rebuffs casino foes

Posted on Wed, Jun. 06, 2007
Pa. Supreme Court rebuffs casino foes
By Jeff Shields
Inquirer Staff Writer

Neighbors of the proposed Foxwoods Casino had no legal standing to challenge the state's decision to build a slots-parlor near their homes, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
In a ruling that augurs ill for similar challenges by City Council, anti-casino activists and neighborhood groups, the Supreme Court yesterday dismissed an appeal from four civic associations opposed to the licensing of Foxwoods Casino on Christopher Columbus Boulevard in South Philadelphia.

The ruling, against Society Hill Civic Association, Queen Village Neighbors Association, Pennsport Civic Association and Whitman Council, was applauded by Foxwoods and SugarHouse casinos - the two partnerships licensed by the state to build in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia casinos still face other legal and political obstacles, including four remaining appeals before the Supreme Court, and a casino-restrictive ordinance to be considered by Council next week.

While local civic groups continue to boycott negotiations with casinos over changes the projects will bring to the neighborhoods, a Foxwoods spokeswoman said she hopes the ruling would begin to change that. "This gives us an opportunity to have meaningful discussions with the community groups," Foxwoods spokeswoman Maureen Garrity said.

That is not the current plan of the Society Hill Civic Association.

"We're not going to change our course," said Richard de Wyngaert, the group's president. "It gives us one more example of the court silencing the people."

The neighbors had argued that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's licensing decision was illegally made behind closed doors, and its members were plagued by conflicts of interest.

But the Court agreed with arguments by Foxwoods, SugarHouse and the Gaming Control Board, that the neighborhood groups should have made formal appeals to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board during the license application process last year.

The Society Hill group's attorney, Larry Silver, said the Supreme Court had shown previously, by refusing to allow an anti-casino referendum on the May 15 primary ballot, that it would tolerate little opposition to the state's plan to build 14 slots parlors across the state.

Paul Boni, attorney for the city's leading casino-opposition group, Casino Free Philadelphia, said the ruling doesn't offer much hope for the other appeals, which include his clients.

"Come on, this is Pennsport, Whitman and Society Hill, people who live hundreds of feet from the casinos," Boni said. "If they don't have standing, they've obviously tortured the law beyond recognition."

Four appeals remain in Philadelphia challenging the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's Dec. 20 licensing decisions. One was filed by Riverwalk Casino, one of three failed bidders for the city's two available slots licenses. City Council filed its own appeal, and a combination of neighborhood groups and casino opponents filed two others.

Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 610-313-8173 or





Posted on Wed, Jun. 06, 2007
Court nixes civic groups' appeal of riverfront casinos

The state Supreme Court on Monday shot down an attempt by four Philadelphia civic associations to challenge the locations of two riverfront casinos.
The court, in a decision posted yesterday, ruled that the neighborhood groups from Society Hill, Queen's Village, Pennsport and Whitman did not have legal standing to file the appeal.

Richard DeWyngaert, president of the Society Hill Civic Association, yesterday compared the decision to another court ruling that bumped from last month's election ballot a referendum on where casinos should be built in the city.

"It's one more example of the court silencing the voices of the citizens," he said. "We are disappointed, but this is an ongoing struggle and something to which we are committed."

Casino representatives and the state Gaming Control Board, which decided on the locations in December, praised the decision.

Maureen Garrity, a spokeswoman for Foxwoods in South Philadelphia, said the proposed casino is committed to being a good neighbor.

"We're encouraged by the Supreme Court's ruling and the removal of one more barrier to our project," Garrity said. "We hope that this development paves the way for the start of productive conversations with these community groups."

Dan Fee, a spokesman for SugarHouse in Fishtown, said the court made the right decision on this appeal. SugarHouse is anticipating decisions on other appeals soon, he added.

City Council, a group of anti-casino activists and another coalition of civic groups have each filed appeals to the Gaming Control Board's decisions.

The board joined the legal arguments made by the casinos that led to Monday's rulings.

The court, in a February ruling, dismissed an appeal from a taxpayer group in Erie about a casino location there because the group had not established legal standing before filing the appeal. *

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