Posted on Mon, Apr. 12, 2010
Editorial: Another busted hand
Steve Wynn's abrupt decision to drop his bid to save the foundering Foxwoods Casino project is just the latest setback in the state's misguided adventure into legalized gambling.
Recall that the unbuilt project Wynn walked away from began as a slots parlor. The concept has since expanded into a full-blown casino with table games. Now there is talk in Harrisburg of legalizing betting on sports games in all of the casinos.
All this and the two Philadelphia casinos aren't even built. Talk about addicted. The politicians in Harrisburg - starting with Gov. Rendell - may need to call Gamblers Anonymous.
Clearly, lawmakers are enjoying the windfall in tax revenues pouring into the state coffers.
But where will the gambling arms race end?
Like Pennsylvania, New Jersey is also looking to legalize sports betting, in Atlantic City. Delaware wants to expand its sports betting. The pro sports leagues oppose any efforts to legalize betting on games - as they should.
Making it easier and legal to bet on sports will only create more problem gamblers. It could also undermine the credibility of the games. (See the Chicago Black Sox and other betting scandals involving athletes.)
Other states are also doubling down on gambling. Most elected officials continue to ignore the social costs of gambling, including increases in personal bankruptcy, crime, divorce, and alcoholism.
Not to mention, there are signs that gamblers are getting tapped out. Profits in Atlantic City continue to plummet. A slots parlor that opened in Bethlehem last May has been a disappointment.
And now the Foxwoods project is in doubt. Wynn folded his hand in Philadelphia faster than some of the poker players he's used to seeing in his casinos. He wasn't at the table long enough here to get a free drink.
Wynn's departure leaves Foxwoods scrambling for a new sugar daddy. It has been four years since the state awarded Foxwoods its license. That bad decision has been compounded by a comedy of errors.
The location in South Philadelphia remains an insurmountable hurdle. A proposal to move to the Gallery on Market Street was just as flawed and eventually scuttled.
The recession further undermined the finances of the Indian tribe that owns a Connecticut casino and was supposed to operate Foxwoods. (Never mind that the head of the Indian tribe was convicted in 1988 of dealing drugs and spent 18 months in prison.)
At this point, the only thing Foxwoods has going for it is that three local investors - developer Ron Rubin, New Jersey entrepreneur Lewis Katz, and Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider - have been big campaign contributors to Rendell, Pennsylvania's godfather of gambling.
But even that inside straight may not be enough to save Foxwoods. Since January, the state has been fining Foxwoods $2,000 a day and threatening to revoke its license if it doesn't get its building plans in order.
After getting an extension, Foxwoods now has until December 2012 to open. But with Wynn gone, Foxwoods is running out of cards to play.