SugarHouse preview

Chuck Darrow of the Philadelphia Inquirer offers a preview of the soon-to-open SugarHouse casino:

At 45,000-and-change square feet, SugarHouse is by far the region's smallest betting parlor. This is a function of casino officials' sensitivity to the surrounding Fishtown neighborhood, residents of which did not want a supersized facility. Its surprisingly low ceilings add to what SugarHouse General Manager Wendy Hamilton enthusiastically describes as her property's "intimacy."

via CasiNotes: Long-anticipated SugarHouse Casino may surprise visitors – it’s the region’s smallest | Philadelphia Daily News | 09/17/2010.

What will the addition of 1,700 slots to Philadelphia mean to Atlantic City? It’s hard to see how it will be a positive. I can definitely see it causing a drop in bus trips.

All in all, it will be interesting to see how this shapes up.

Faith-based gaming

I’ve explained, opined, asserted, declared, and suggested, but at last I’ve reached the stage in my career where I can quip. From the Daily Review:

After defeat at polls in 1974, a gaming referendum in New Jersey succeeded two years later thanks to an alliance between gaming interests and the Roman Catholic Church, explained David Schwartz, of the Institute of Gaming Studies [sic] at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
Priestly blessings at casino ribbon cuttings aren’t unheard of, but aren’t routine either, he said.
“I certainly see a lot of people praying in the casino after it opens,” Mr. Schwartz quipped.

Multi-faceted clergyman: Indicted priest with alleged mob ties has many friends, talents

I really don’t have too much to say about this one. Trust me, I’m not quitting my day job for a career as a stand-up comic who specializes in gaming-related humor.

Anti-casino archives

I’ve always hoped that, just as I spend most of my working (NOT waking) hours documenting and preserving the history of the gaming industry, there is someone, somewhere who is cataloging the decline and demise of gaming. My wish has come true. From the Evening Sun:

The battle fought over a failed proposal to build a casino near Gettysburg is now history. Literally.

Ben Neely, the collections manager of the Adams County Historical Society has been gathering items from No Casino Gettysburg and Pro Casino Adams County to document the recent controversy. He will place them in the society’s archives for study, and predicts they eventually could become an exhibit.

“There is a lot of emotional response from seeing these items,” Neely said. “We will wait for more time to pass before putting it on display.”

On Wednesday, he made a trip to Gettysburg Antiques at 15 Baltimore St. to pick up a neon sign that reads “No Casino” and has hung in the window since April 2005.

Neely is looking for items representing both sides of the debate that are unique and have “enduring historical value.”

The society archives contain a collection of items from the Gettysburg Electric Railway, a trolley system once built across the battlefield. It was eventually was taken by the National Park Service by eminent domain and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who affirmed the seizure. The trolley system was taken down, and represented the conflict of entrepreneurs and preservationists in much the same way as the casino, Neely said.

The preservation of those artifacts help modern historians understand that controversy, and he hopes the casino artifacts will serve the same function.

Evening Sun – Casino fight secures its place in history

So Neely is the Anti-Monitor to my Monitor. The anti-casino people would see it the other way around, I’m sure. Or maybe he’s the Black Guardian to my White Guardian. Except I’d never send someone on a season-long hunt for the Key to Time; I’ d just ask their casino’s PR department to put the Center on their distribution list.

Seriously, it’s great that someone is doing the important work of preserving the artifacts of the Gettysburg casino campaign.

Quote of the day, 12/23/04

“Don’t give me that addiction crap. Your generation’s always passing the buck, looking for excuses. If only you learned there’s no free lunch in this world.”

–Some old guy in a gym responding to a columnist’s contention that gambling leads to addiction which “leads to embezzlement, bankruptcies, family problems, domestic violence and other social ills.”

The columnist’s subtle touch seems to imply that people who enjoy gambling are myopic and stupid.

Continue reading “Quote of the day, 12/23/04”

Cheesesteak miscue

I must have missed this when it first broke, but apparently presidential candidate John Kerry went into Philly a few weeks ago and ordered a cheese steak–with swiss cheese. Read about some more inane campaign trail faux pas from Slate:

If John Kerry loses the election, a reporter once told me, we’ll probably be able to blame it on the mistakes he makes while trying to sprinkle local color into his speeches. The Badger State boasts Kerry’s most famous slip of the tongue: the time he declared his love for “Lambert Field,” suggesting that the state’s beloved Green Bay Packers play their home games on the frozen tundra of the St. Louis airport. But there have been others: his shout-out to the “Buckeyes” while campaigning in Michigan, or his announcement in Canonsburg, Pa., that he would like to go to a local restaurant that doesn’t let its customers choose their entrees, because he has a hard time making up his mind about what to eat. In a slightly different category, but in the same vein, was Kerry’s request in Philadelphia for Swiss, rather than cheese whiz, on his Philly cheesesteak.

Kerry Puts the Gloves On – The “rope-a-dope” strategy reaches its logical conclusion.

I don’t want to get political here, but Kerry must be nuts to order a cheesesteak with swiss. I’ve never heard of it before. In Philly, whiz is the default–in Atlantic City, it’s American (my favorite) or provolone.

Check out this political ad which seizes on the campaign trail misstep. I thought it was a joke at first, but apparently it is a real 527. I don’t know, and I don’t care anymore.

I think it’s kind of silly when millionaires on both sides of the aisle play at being just one of the folks during election season. Kerry seems to have got caught doing this more–when I first saw him snowboarding, I was watching the news late at night and it looked so goofy I thought it was a dream or something. Then, a week ago, I saw him goose hunting. That looked even goofier.

Two nights ago, when I was in Mississippi, I really did have a dream about Kerry–at least I think it was a dream. In the dream, he came into my room, picked up an acoustic guitar, and sang a song (sorry, but I don’t remember the lyrics). He then asked me to vote for him. When I said I would think about it, he got really offended. I then went into the explanation, seen on Da Ali G Show, that in this country, we don’t have to publicly proclaim our votes, and that many people make it a habit to keep their secret ballot secret.

Speaking of Democratic candidates doing goofy things on TV, does anyone remember Dukakis in the tank? I actually met Michael Dukakis when I was at UCLA. He had an appointment in the Public Policy department, and I sat in one a lecture, which was absolutely brilliant. So the next week, as I was on my way to see my dissertation chair, Eric Monkonnen, I run into Prof. Dukakis in the hallway.

Do I say, “Hello, Governor Dukakis. It’s an honor to meet you,” or something like that? Do I ask him about the finer points of public service, or the dynamics of balancing political concerns with budgetary realities? Do I say, “You’ve got a great class. I’m going to sign up next time it’s offered?”

No, instead, the best I can offer is a quick grin and “Howzit goin?” When Gov. Dukakis responded it was going rather well, I shrugged appreciatively and said “see you around” before ducking into the public policy office.

“See you around.” Face to face with a political icon, whose teaching I really admired, and that was the best I could do.

Anyway, he might have caught a lot of flak for riding in the tank, but he was pretty adept at handling a clueless grad student. That’s something, unfortunately, you don’t see plastered all over the TV.

Slots, urban design, and destination dreams

Philly Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron doesn’t think much of the recently-passed slot bill. From (reg. required):

The legalization of slot machines in Pennsylvania was sold to the public as a form of tax relief, although tax redistribution strikes me as a better term. Harrisburg will use part of the money deposited in the parlors’ one-armed bandits to reduce the Philadelphia wage tax. If current revenue projections hold, someone earning $40,000 a year would eventually save $160 annually in city taxes. As a further incentive, Philadelphia has been promised $636 million to expand the Convention Center.

But the city will have to pay dearly for this infusion of revenue. The slots bill, which was rushed through the legislature without the usual opportunities for public comment, strips Philadelphia of planning and zoning powers over its future casinos. Instead, a seven-member, state-run gambling control board will decide the big design issues, from the location of the casinos down to the location of their garage driveways.

The city’s lack of control is no small thing. With Saturday’s vote, Philadelphia became the biggest city in America to permit casinos. Unlike the gaming halls in Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans, ours will be wedged into a dense and still-thriving downtown. At least one slots parlor – and possibly two – appear headed for Market Street, in the high-profile stretch between City Hall and Independence Mall.

That’s barely two blocks from the residential neighborhoods of Washington Square and Chinatown. Yet slots parlors the size of those planned in Philadelphia, with 5,000 machines, can draw 40,000 gamblers in a 24-hour day.

Saffron argues her case on some interesting aesthetic grounds:

Casinos and good design go together about as well as oil and water. Because gambling operators want to keep patrons at their machines as long as possible, they aim to block out anything that hints of the outside world, such as clocks and windows. Virtually every downtown casino built in America in the last decade is a solid-walled box, surrounded by a vast supply of parking spaces.

What urban good will a big box do for an eclectic urban environment like East Market Street? For that matter, what good will a big box do for the Delaware River waterfront, where another slots parlor is expected?

Let me quote Gary Tuma, spokesman for Sen. Vince Fumo (D., Phila.), who largely wrote the slots bill: The casino applicants will be judged on “their potential for producing revenue.” Gambling was not conceived as a way of improving the urban environment….

In a perfect world, Philadelphia’s slots parlors would be planned as one component in a major revitalization of dowdy East Market Street. The area has been sadly neglected even though it is a key connector between the Convention Center and the tourist district around Independence Mall. It’s vital that the casino be attractive for gamblers and non-gamblers alike.

Changing Skyline | City’s losses outstrip its slot wins

I doubt that she read Suburban Xanadu, but I think that my book makes some of the same points. Obviously, casinos are, like any business, designed to maximize revenue. In that a casino is profitable, one can say that it is well-designed.

Does this mean that it is an asset to an urban neighborhood? Not necessarily. As I said in Suburban Xanadu, self-contained casino resorts–what you find on the Las Vegas Strip, on Indian reservations, and in Atlantic City–have not proved themselves to improve any kind of “urban” fabric. A casino designed to encourage genuine interaction with the neighborhood, though, certainly could.

Another view, from the Intelligencer, holds that slots parlors won’t make too much of an immediate impact:

They may like slot machines, but don’t expect busloads of seniors clutching rolls of quarters to head for Philly Park any time soon. Senior centers and tour bus operators, many of which organize regular trips to Atlantic City, say it will take a while for now-legal Pennsylvania slot machines to compete with the lure of a trip out of town – not to mention all those discounts.

“Part of it is going away,” said Emma Straccio, manager of the Lower Bucks Activity Center for Retired and Senior Citizens. “There are more things to do in Atlantic City: the boardwalk, the ocean, and there are a lot of promotions.”

At the same time, some local tour companies are making adjustments to prepare for the tide of as much as 61,000 slot machines arriving at select locations across the state, including Philadelphia Park in Bensalem.

Lion Tours, at four trips a day, six days a week, runs as many as 100 trips a month to Atlantic City, and about 80 percent of the participants are seniors, according to Richard Tisone, vice president of the Levittown company.

He said he will definitely feel the impact of the slots bill, but he added that if it’s good for the state’s economy, “as a businessman, I’m just going to develop a different market.”
It will take some time for slots in state to compete

People are finally talking about Atlantic City as a destination. Hopefully, for that city, this will force operators to invest in non-gaming attractions. In a nutshell, they have to create a south Las Vegas Strip-east rather than a Laughlin-east.

These efforts may be paying off already, because, according to the AC Press’s editorial page, “young people” now consider the resort a happening place:

Various reports in the news media this summer indicate that, lo and behold, Atlantic City is now considered hip by 21- to 35-year-olds. This is excellent news.

Trump Marina Hotel Casino started it a couple of years ago by booking acts with more appeal to young people than to the blue-haired set. Then the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opened and capitalized on the Marina’s early success by aggressively reaching out to younger people.

And now, in the summer of 2004, between the fresh acts and the beach bars, the shopping and the nightclubs and, oh yeah, the casinos, Atlantic City is suddenly hot among young people. “Atlantic City is so underrated,” says Alex Gilli, 22, uttering words that the resort’s marketers have longed to hear for years.
But our advice to tourism officials: Shush …

It is truly wonderful news that a younger generation is finding Atlantic City to be hip and cool. But as all truly hip and cool people know, once a place (or a clothing style or a band or a particular piece of slang) is perceived by the general public to be hip and cool, it is – by definition – no longer hip and cool.

So keep doing whatever you’re doing that’s helping a new generation rediscover Atlantic City – but don’t talk about it much.

Yes, I’m sure that Las Vegas wishes that it had kept itself a well-kept secret. Once word got out that famous people went there, the city really went downhill.

Maybe the editorial is a way of justifying AC’s attempt to become a destination without launching the kind of ad campaign that Las Vegas has.

If you were from Atlantic City, as I am, you wouldn’t be surprised at inaction being trumpeted as a civic virtue.