FUMO BACKS CITY’S AUTHORITY IN
CASINO ZONING CASE
HARRISBURG, November 2, 2007
– State Senator Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia) filed a friend of the court brief
today with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, opposing the proposed Sugarhouse
casino’s attempt to bypass the City of Philadelphia’s zoning process.
From his perspectives as both the main author of the
state slot machine law and the elected senator of the district containing
Philadelphia’s two licensed casino locations, Fumo argued that Sugarhouse’s
request to the Supreme Court to usurp city zoning authority is improper as well
as premature, and is in direct contradiction to the General Assembly’s clear
intent when enacting gambling legislation.
HSP Gaming, LP, the licensee for the proposed
Sugarhouse casino in the Fishtown neighborhood, is dissatisfied with the pace of
the city’s zoning consideration and has petitioned the Supreme Court to require
approval more quickly.
“This is an unprecedented attempt to have the Supreme
Court order a legislative body, City Council, to pass certain bills in a certain
time frame, and it is entirely without merit under the state gaming act,” Fumo
Submitting the brief was consistent with Fumo’s
commitment to residents that the city be able to use its zoning authority to
protect the quality of life in the communities near the casinos.
“The city and the state will benefit from casino
gambling – including significant wage tax cuts for workers and property tax cuts
for seniors. But the people living near the casinos should not have to see their
neighborhoods ruined for everyone’s else’s sake. They have very legitimate
concerns and the city should be allowed to address those concerns through its
zoning regulations,” Fumo said.
In the brief, Fumo noted that the gaming legislation
clearly states that the primary purpose of the law is to protect the public.
“Though maximization of revenue was important to the
commonwealth, it was not more important than its primary goal of protecting the
public interest. . . . the legislature succinctly stated that the public
interest and the protection of the public should be elevated above all other
considerations when implementing the provisions of the Act,” the brief reads.
To listen to audio of Sen. Fumo
discussing the brief, click here.
Fumo also noted that the state gaming Act gives the
Supreme Court direct jurisdiction to review final orders, decisions and
determinations, but does not provide any authority for the court to review the
pace at which the city conducts its zoning process. Nor does it require that
gaming development proceed along any certain time line.
In fact, construction has not yet begun on licensed
casinos in Bethlehem and Pittsburgh. Several of the 14 licenses authorized by
the 2004 gaming Act have not yet even been awarded by the state Gaming Control
Fumo also pointed out that nothing in the gaming Act
prevents Sugarhouse or Foxwoods from considering alternative locations that
would present fewer zoning obstacles. The law gives the Gaming Control Board the
flexibility to modify licenses and approve relocation for good cause.
When Sugarhouse and Foxwoods sought to postpone the
payment of their required $50 million license fees to the state because the city
had been slow to grant zoning approvals, the Gaming Board denied the request,
saying that the casinos should have anticipated reasonable delays.
Fumo’s brief also extensively discussed the history of
local zoning authority in Pennsylvania’s gaming statutes. The original gaming
Act as passed in 2004 pre-empted local zoning authority, vesting it solely with
the state Gaming Control Board, but the Supreme Court ruled that provision to be
unconstitutional. In 2006, when the General Assembly considered a bill
containing several public policy amendments to the gaming law, Fumo proposed a
provision that would again have delegated zoning authority to the state Gaming
Control Board, but in a manner that mirrored the city’s land use standards. The
Senate adopted the bill, 50-0. The House, however, changed that to a blanket
Fumo played a lead role in a clear policy shift that
saw the Legislature eventually agree to retain local zoning authority. Through a
lengthy amendment process that followed the House vote, the House and Senate
attempted to reconcile differences concerning the public policy issue of local
zoning control, and to balance the interests of local governments in managing
and controlling land development with the need of the commonwealth to
strategically locate gaming facilities in a manner that maximizes revenue, and
with the interests of casino licensees.
During that process, Fumo announced that in response to
concerns raised by the mayor of the city, by City Council members, and by local
residents, that he no longer supported zoning pre-emption. Local zoning control
ultimately was preserved in the bill.
Thus, Fumo points out, the Legislature did not simply
omit or fail to consider the question of local zoning rights; rather; it
deliberated at length before deciding not to nullify local zoning authority.
The brief also notes that Sugarhouse is seeking to
expedite zoning decisions over property which it does not control. It cannot
build its planned facility without acquiring riparian rights over land that is
part of the Delaware Riverbed, and currently controlled by the state. The
Legislature has so far rejected attempts to have those rights conveyed to
Without legal possession of its development property,
Sugarhouse’s claims of delay are both premature and highly speculative.
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To read the friend of the
court brief in its entirety, click here.