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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Philadelphia's CasinoNO activists: latter day prohibitionists

In 1901, Carry A. Nation, with her swinging Crandall hammer, set about smashing saloons to show her disapproval of alcoholic beverages and her support for prohibition. Although vilified by many, Nation had many supporters, some of whom even sent her hatchets and other weapons with which to smash new saloons. Today, Carry A. Nation is regarded as a symbol of obsessive overreaction to the consumption of alcohol.

In our own time, and in our own city, the tactics of Casino-Free Philadelphia (CFP) might be said to be a symbol of obsessive overreaction to legalized gambling. Why? Because CFP seems to be adopting the methods of Carry A. Nation. On June 6, 2009, a contingent from CFP went inside Harrah's Casino in Chester, Pennsylvania, and put on a demonstration meant to show slots users how they are being "used and controlled" by the casino industry. In short, the CFP raiders (called 'Beat the House') broadcast the message that the industry survives on the backs of hapless gamblers. The idea behind the message: casinos use gamblers like doctors used medical leeches on patients in the 19th century. The poor retirees, housewives and one day-trippers at Harrah's were trying to have a good time, when along comes the Carry A. Nation New Prohibitionists with a demonstration. While some may dismiss CFP's antics as harmless, what will tomorrow bring? An army of hatchets? The stated mission of CFP, after all, is "…to stop casinos from coming to Philadelphia and close any that open."

Excuse me, but does "close any that open" mean shutting down casinos that the majority of people approve of? Isn't this a form of tyranny? After all, what gives these self proclaimed addiction fighters, these self appointed messiahs, the right to save people from themselves? It's one thing to fight for a casino not to be built, another thing entirely to go into a casino and plan to close it. Carry A. Nation didn't care whether people actually wanted to drink alcohol. In her mind, all alcohol was evil because it led to "the destruction of families." Nation had no concept of drinking in moderation. A glass of wine with dinner was just as evil to her as the man who downs 20 beers and then goes home and beats his wife. By a not- so- strange coincidence, CFP's motto is the same as Nation's: that casinos (gambling) destroys families. Funny how prohibitionists of every strip use that old slogan, isn't it? Compulsive gambling and compulsive drinking may destroy families, but so does compulsive sex, compulsive Game Stop video watching, or a compulsive sports addiction.

As a society, do we really need to determine the morality of pleasurable activities based on whether a minority of genetically predisposed folks become addicted to it? Most of the gamblers who head to Atlantic City or Chester, Pennsylvania, are day trippers, not addicts out of Russian novelist Dostoevsky's novella on gambling addiction, "The Gambler."

Philadelphia's sister city, Pittsburgh, just opened a beautiful new casino, Rivers Casino, on the North Shore Riverfront. While Pittsburgh's own Carry A. Nation faction was active in protesting Rivers, they were not successful in delaying the project as has been the case in Philadelphia. The $780 million Rivers Casino has become the source of thousands of job opportunities, unlike what is happening in Philadelphia, where the only "job opportunity" for unemployed neighborhood residents seems to be the acquisition of an Access card. "While just about every economic indicator plummets, the glass, brick and steel walls of Pittsburgh's casino continues to rise," said The Tribune Review. "For the most part, the North Shore riverfront seemed to be an instant hit. If visitors weren't playing, they appeared to be eating, crowding several of the casino's restaurants, including its all-you-can-eat buffet," chimed The Pittsburg Post-Gazette, on August 9, 2009, the casino's opening day.Elmer Smith of the Daily News offered, "They [River Casino] won't drop enough coins to offset Pennsylvania's cavernous $3 billion budget gap this year. But they could keep the lights on in Harrisburg."

Pittsburgh seems happy with the way things are, but guess who was in town protesting the opening of Rivers, Carry A. Nation style? CFP. Never mind that River Casino made a $300,000 commitment to the Northside neighborhoods in the form of a $600,000 matching federal grant to support Northside small businesses; never mind that the city of Pittsburgh will stand to gain tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenues. Never mind that Pittsburgh and Allegheny County will each receive 2 percent of the casino's revenue as host fee.With that said, will Philadelphia ever get its act together?It will, good people, once we bury the Carry A. Nation hatchet!

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