Frank Friel’s resignation from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is just the latest chapter in the state’s gambling horror story.
Friel, a former Philadelphia police captain, was appointed by Governor Ed Rendell just over a month ago. But in the midst of controversy surrounding alleged mob ties with a boxing promoter and a misstatement concerning his educational attainment during a sworn testimony, Friel was forced to step down last Thursday, Sept. 16.
Though the governor spun the story as character assassination directed at “one of the most decent and honest people I have ever met in my life,” Senator Vince Fumo knew better.
“The thing about Friel that I found that might have been a problem is that I don’t think he had the political skills or the leadership skills,” Fumo said.
Friel couldn’t escape his inevitable resignation, but the city may delay its fate for quite a while. The Gaming Control Board is now forced to select a new chairman, which will likely take months due to background checks and deliberations, so progress on proposed slots parlors will undoubtedly be halted.
The parlors in question are likely to land on East Market Street, in hopes of connecting Old City and City Hall. The brainchild of Fumo and Rendell is projected to increase tourism and raise city revenue, while reducing the wage tax for residents in return. With the addition of a multi-million dollar renovation of the Convention Center, the two officials are hoping they have the formula for economic growth.
The sad truth is that parlors are not all bright lights and big city. In fact, as Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron points out, most casinos “aim to block out anything that hints of the outside world, such as clocks and windows” in order to keep clientele cooped up as long as possible.
According to the Inquirer, parlors planned for the city may draw 40,000 gamblers daily, but the thought of a casino being conducive to tourists sauntering around the city is a stretch. Because parlors are constructed with the sole motive of draining wallets while the patron is in a stationary position, it’s unlikely gamblers will check out an interactive display at the Constitution Center while they’re on a bathroom break.
The social ramifications of parlors may also outweigh the economic benefits. According to a study by economists Earl Grinols and David Mustard, “the costs of casinos are at least 1.9 times greater than the benefits.”
That is to say taxpayers may end up shelling-out twice the amount of money a parlor is raking in due to adverse side-effects from gambling. This entails paying for enforcement to control “cost-creating activities such as crime, suicide, and bankruptcy” stemming from gamblers.
The Native American Press points out that the same study concluded that “casinos accounted for 10.3 percent of violent crime, and 7.7 percent of property crime in casino counties.”
The Press also explains that the study found that crime usually began a few years after the opening of a casino because pathological gamblers “according to clinical research, take two or three years to exhaust alternative resources before they commit crime.”
What is perceived by officials to be an end-all solution to the state’s economic woes is rather a hapless attempt at revitalization that will only make matters worse. Slots parlors will exploit the poor, generate crime and ultimately plunge the city into an identity crisis. Between Philadelphia’s two most visible landmarks, the Liberty Bell and William Penn will be an expensive knock-off of Atlantic City’s appeal.
As for Friel, Governor Rendell labeled him a victim of “seek-and-destroy journalism.” For the city’s sake, Rendell will delay the planning process by taking years to seek out Friel’s replacement, unconsciously saving the city from destruction.