"We're victims of his addiction," says anti-gambling activist Bruce Barron of state Rep. Mike Veon's latest effort to ensure Harrisburg has the last word on where the state's slots casino will go. "I can't believe he calls cramming a casino down an unwilling neighborhood's throat an overwhelming need," says Barron, president of No Dice, a local group that opposes the expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania.
Although no decision has been made on where Pittsburgh's gaming facility will land, Democrat Whip Veon (D-Beaver Falls) wants to make sure the state Gaming Control Board has control, despite the state Supreme Court's recent ruling that local municipalities can make the final zoning decisions. Veon did not return multiple calls. On July 10, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that this was "one of the rare times that the state should override local zoning."
Contends No Dice's Barron: "An amusement park would bring in a lot more revenue than rows of slot machines and the state would never step in and overrule local zoning to place one of those Downtown." Veon, he adds, "is clearly addicted to government sources of new revenue, because there's no justification for taking a business like this and putting the decision for where it should go in the hands of the state. It makes absolutely no sense from a public policy perspective."
The move has been widely denounced. A recent City Paper story (main feature, "Letting Chips Fall," July 6) highlighted how free-for-all slots placement has turned West Virginia into an even less desirable place to go.
Site-selection battles are being fought all across the state, from Bethlehem to Gettysburg, Barron notes. It's unsettling to think the final decision is not going to be made by local officials about placing a slots casino on the North Shore, for instance, or in Station Square or the Hill District.
"If Mike Veon gets his way, this very important decision is going to be in the hands of an organization whose main interest is to maximize casino revenue," Barron says. "The people driving this thing don't care what happens to your neighborhood as long as they get their profits. The only thing worthwhile Harrisburg can do for us now is to cancel this whole business before we live to regret it."
It's not only gambling opponents who have a problem with the lack of local control. Robin Rosemary Miller, executive director of the North Side Chamber of Commerce, says parking czar Merrill Stabile, who is trying for a license for a potential North Shore casino, seems very open to working with the community and developing a program to give back to the neighborhood. But she still withholds judgment.
"No one better understands the impact something like this will have on a neighborhood than the people who actually live in the community," Miller says. "Someone from Harrisburg isn't going to know what's best for this neighborhood. That final decision should remain here."