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Is City Force Up to Slots Task?

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To study where and how 3,000 slot machines will fit in Pittsburgh's single slots parlor, the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force has one consultant and no staff.

 

 

The Philadelphia Gaming Advisory Task Force, prepping for two slots parlors, has eight full-time staff members on the city payroll -- a mix of existing city employees, new hires unique to the force and one volunteer. The Philly task force also has a lawyer and six consultants.

 

"There's a price to be paid in terms of timeliness," says Ronald D. Porter, co-chair of Pittsburgh's task force and an instructor in the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management. "We don't have the resources in Pittsburgh to hire a staff, but that doesn't lessen the obligation we have to do the work. The absence of a staff means that more research falls to the volunteers."

 

Task force co-chair Anne J. Swager, also the executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Institute of Architects, says that plunging into gaming policy has been a lot of work for someone who's never really gambled before.

 

"Trying to come up to speed on a new industry is a reasonably daunting task," Swager says.

 

Philadelphia's effort wouldn't be as successful without its staff, says Executive Director Shawn L. Fordham. "If we weren't going to have a dedicated staff, we would have had a more narrow scope of work," he says. The 45-member task force (Pittsburgh's has 23 members) has already evaluated possible sites for the city's two parlors and examined economic and social impacts of gambling in the city. In August, it submitted a 372-page report of their findings to Mayor John Street.

 

"We needed to have a dedicated staff that could follow up on research," Fordham says. "Taking all of those data and notes and boiling them into action items, doing the legwork, it would have been a lot to put on folks that don't really have the time to go through all that."

 

Porter notes that the Philadelphia task force has an excellent Web site that's often updated. He says he visits it frequently to track the group's progress and see what methods it is using. The site lists a telephone hotline and provides an easy link for e-mail, both useful ways to garner community input. The Pittsburgh force has no Web presence yet, but Porter says that's in the works.

 

The Pittsburgh group, say both Swager and Porter, could use professional traffic engineers and zoning and urban-design experts on staff, since Pittsburgh presents unique traffic challenges that an expert could help navigate. Porter says a financial adviser would be useful, and Swager says a lawyer would be a welcome addition to help make sense of the legislation.

 

"The first person I would pick is someone who could be an organizer, who could bring people together," Swager says, "to pool the people in the community who know the most about gambling addictions. There's some nuances to this."

 

As it is, the task force, whose report Swager says will come in the first quarter of 2006, will rely on the expertise of task-force members who will have to become "instant experts" through their own research.

 

 

She did not know, she admits, that having 3,000 one-armed bandits in a single slots parlor was an unusually high number until she stumbled upon that fact in her reading.

 

"I was feeling defensive that you don't always have the right answers," she says.

 

While Swager does speak with a hint of envy about Philly's staff, she's also optimistic about the work that Pittsburgh's task force can do.

 

"It doesn't say we can't be effective," she says. The Philadelphia task force is "just going to be able to be much more thorough. Meeting deadlines and replying to things the Gaming Commission does is a lot easier [with a staff]."

 

Without a staff, how would Philly be faring on its analysis and recommendations?

 

Says Fordham of the Philly task force: "We couldn't have done it."

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