By Kellie Patrick
Despite last month’s Supreme Court injunction against a casino referendum, Philadelphians will get to “vote” on whether the gambling halls should be banned from residential neighborhoods.
It is highly likely that on May 15, the casino question on the already-printed ballots will be covered by a sticker that reads, “Removed by court order.”
But the same anti-casino organization that called for the referendum will set up its own ballot boxes near polls around the city, where voters can register their wishes on the same question covered by the sticker.
“Even though this is not legally binding, it’s politically binding,” said Casino-Free Philadelphia spokesman Daniel Hunter prior to Tuesday morning’s official announcement, made in front of City Hall.
“It’s a frivolous PR stunt,” said SugarHouse spokesman John Miller. “It’s essentially a publicity ploy,” said Foxwoods’ attorney Jeffrey B. Rotwitt.
It’s a way to guide public policy, said Hunter. Casino-Free Philadelphia will present the results to the state legislature, he said.
“We will be creating a political mandate for the people of Philadelphia on whether we should be building casinos this close to schools, homes and places of worship,” Hunter said. “The old legislature implemented the original gambling law, and provided no standards,” he said. “The new legislature is in a good position to be responsible.”
The casino issue originally made it to the ballot after city council unanimously voted in March to put the question before voters during the upcoming primary election.
But soon after the Casino Gaming Control Board sued to stop the ballot measure, arguing that a referendum asking whether casinos should be banned from locations within 1,500 feet of residential areas, parks, schools, places of worship, was in effect an attempt to keep casinos entirely out of Philadelphia.
The Supreme Court did not detail why it granted the injunction. Hunter said the court’s ruling and other actions – such as not allowing the city to advertise the referendum – indicate it will not allow the question.
Rotwitt said courts do not issue injunctions without a belief that the requesting party will prevail on the merits of the case.
There will be at least one Casino-Free Philadelphia ballot box in each state House of Representatives district throughout the city, said Casino-Free Philadelphia spokesman Karim Olaechea. Their locations will be listed in the days prior to the election at www.phillysballotbox.org.
On Election Day, ballots can also be cast through that website or by phone at 215-925-6380. Olaechea said the results will be vetted against the voter registration rolls prior to the announcement of the results, to be certain that only votes made by registered Philadelphia voters are reported.
Hunter said Peace Brigades International, an election monitoring organization, has agreed to send volunteers. His organization and Peace Brigades are still working out the parameters of that organization’s involvement, he said.
Even with such checks, Rotwitt said the Casino-Free vote would lack some of the “checks and balances” that are part of elections because “No one (at the ballot box) will have a view contrary to the views of the organizers.”
“I’ve invited casino operators or investors who want to take part in watching or observing to do so,” Hunter said.
Rotwitt said he’ll decline the invite. “I think that the Supreme Court has spoken with respect on what is to be done on this,” he said.
Rotwitt said Foxwoods plans to start construction in “early summer.” Even if the city has not yet created a zone which allows casino operation.
“We believe we have the right to begin building the physical structure of the facility,” he said.