Pennsylvania gaming regulators are challenging a Philadelphia ballot measure that threatens to derail two downtown casino projects, including one spearheaded by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said Friday that it filed suit asking the state Supreme Court to remove the referendum question from the May 15 ballot. The measure would amend city zoning laws to prohibit casinos within 1,500 feet of homes, schools, places of worship or public parks.
The gaming board said a 2004 state law gave it the sole authority to decide where new slot parlors would be located in the state. Delays in opening Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia and SugarHouse Casino cost the state $140 million in lost tax revenues every six months, board Chairman Tad Decker said.
“We cannot sit idly by and must take this action now because placing this question on the ballot is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars,” Decker said in a statement.
The City Council, prompted by vocal opposition from neighborhood groups, voted unanimously last month to put the question on the ballot. Foxwoods' riverfront site is in South Philadelphia; SugarHouse would build its $550 million casino in the city's Fishtown neighborhood.
“Our right to vote is under attack by an out-of-control board,” Daniel Hunter, coordinator of Casino-Free Philadelphia, said in a statement. “We have a right to vote. And we have a right to set standards when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board doesn't.”
The state Supreme Court is also considering legal challenges filed by an unsuccessful gaming-license applicant, the City Council and civic groups that argue that Foxwoods and SugarHouse shouldn't receive the licenses.
The Mashantuckets are leading a group of investors who want to build a $560 million casino on a 16-acre site along the banks of the Delaware River. The Connecticut tribe will operate the facility and own a 30 percent stake.