Lawmakers see chance to raise funds for Philly by going in on casino

While Pennsylvania gaming officials review applications to build Philadelphia’s next casino, some politicians are floating an unprecedented idea. They’d like to see a nonprofit own two-thirds of the gaming hall with the expectation that it would help fund the city.

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Philadelphia, is pushing the idea he says could help the city considerably by helping to fund the school district and the city pension fund.

But Temple University professor Bryant Simon has concerns about the proposal.

“I can see why this is attractive to people, but it’s exactly what casinos have started everywhere else. They seem like good ideas to sort of painlessly fund things. But as soon as they start losing money, what happens?” Simon said. “Is this how we want to fund our schools? On a gamble?

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“What if people stop gambling, does that mean we don’t have kindergarten anymore? I mean is that how we’re going to set our priorities?”

Some critics suggest the plan is an effort to maneuver around the current law.

Supporters, including state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, D-Philadelphia, say it’s a matter of simple math.

“It’s common sense that the best application relative to revenue is the one that those elected to public office should be supporting and so I’m going to support that which brings 10-fold more revenue to the bottom line so to speak,” Williams.

Eric Schippers, from Penn National Gaming, says Penn National would own one-third of the casino and the majority-owning nonprofit would fund charities and other causes in the city.

“Penn is restricted by Pennsylvania statute from owning more than a third of a second casino in the Commonwealth. So that’s caused us to get a bit creative here,” Schippers says.

He says Penn National is determined to be a good corporate citizen.

“We have structured this so that a third of the proposed Hollywood casino in Philadelphia would be owned by us and two-thirds would be owned by a new nonprofit corporation that’s being formed with the sole purpose of

returning the economic benefit ultimately to the community in Philadelphia.”

Schippers stresses that under this model, the city would not own the casino.

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