City counting on a casino windfall

The time for conjecture and debate is almost over. With Philadelphia on the verge of opening its first casino on Thursday, the city will finally find out whether gaming will be a boon or a bust for the local economy.

SugarHouse Casino has hired some 900 workers for its interim facility. Of those, more than 500 workers are from Philadelphia at a time when local unemployment is 11.9 percent. If the casino expands, that number would grow.

“People need jobs,” said Fishtown resident James Friel. “[People] are worried about people gambling or peeing in your yard? They’re doing it already.”

The casino will also contribute about $15 million in taxes and fees for the city, and tourism officials said the facility could generate even more as an entertainment venue.

“We have seen since casinos have come into Pennsylvania, there’s been great activity,” said Jack Ferguson, executive vice president, at the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It adds value to the Delaware River and we see that as very positive.”

Opponents argue, however, that the casino will cannibalize jobs as it takes money from other industries, and that revenues will eventually tail off.

“Revenues of casinos start to drop once the market gets saturated,” said Casino-Free Philadelphia spokesman Dan Hajdo. “Once that happens, the money generated by casinos is outpaced by normal tax sources.”

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