Casino Finds Foes In Philly's Chinatown
ALEX COHEN, host:
The city of Philadelphia is suffering billion dollar budget deficits and near double-digit unemployment. So when a developer unveils a project that promises jobs and tax revenue, well, that's hard to resist. But many of Philadelphia's Chinatown residents are doing just that. They're fighting a Foxwood Casino slated to be built nearby. They say it's a fight for the life a community that's already lost too many fights to outside developers. Jamila Trindle has this report.
(Soundbite of protestors)
JAMILA TRINDLE: Dozens of protesters from Chinatown are gathered a few blocks south of Philadelphia's City Hall in a light snow hoping to catch the attention of the owner of a building developers want to transform into a casino. One of the protesters, Debbie Wei(ph), says Philadelphia's Chinatown has long been a target of developers and the community has only suffered from the experience.
Ms. DEBBIE WEI (Principal, Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School): Two hundred families have lost their homes, was lost like a third of our housing, third to a half of the housing. It's - you know, it's a small community and you can only take so much. So, between the Vine Street Expressway and Convention Center and the Independence Rail Tunnel and the Gallery and the Greyhound Bus Station, you know, like enough is enough.
TRINDLE: Wei is the principal of the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School. She worries the casino will target the Asian community and she fears for the children she teaches.
Ms. WEI: I work with children everyday who are probably the most innocent victims of gambling addiction and predatory gambling.
Ms. LEI HART CHUNG (Chinatown Resident): I've been building a case against gambling since I was five.
TRINDLE: Lei Hart Chung(ph) was one of those children.
Ms. CHANG: (Foreign Language Spoken)
TRINDLE: She says she's scared what will happen if the casino was only blocks away. She's already seen what gambling addiction can do.
Ms. CHANG: It makes you want to keep coming back and you forget to eat and you forget your kids and you forget to go to work. And that's what my experience has been.
TRINDLE: Sitting in her grandmother's apartment in Chinatown, she recalls how her parents' gambling problem often left her at home, responsible for her four younger siblings.
Ms. CHANG: All we ever wanted was our parents to be home. Like, we just wanted their presence, but things like slot parlors and casinos, what they do is like they pull parents away from their kids. And it's not just an issue of neglect. It's also issue of values.
TRINDLE: Chung says immigrant families are particularly vulnerable. And she doesn't want to see a casino in any Philadelphia neighborhood. But the revenue could be good for the city as a whole. Mayor Michael Nutter says Philadelphia is looking at a billion dollar deficit over the next five years. In order to fix that, the city is considering closing public library branches and charging for trash pick up. The casino would bring tax revenue and jobs.
Mayor MICHAEL NUTTER (Democratic, Philadelphia): They aren't many businesses, in fact, I don't know of any businesses that are looking to move to Philadelphia that will create a few thousand jobs.
TRINDLE: Both of Philadelphia's proposed casino sites are in Councilman Frank DiCicco's district. The decision to bring gambling to Pennsylvania, including those two casinos in Philadelphia, came down from the state legislature in 2004. DiCicco says the city has already tried to fight it, and now it's time to accept it.
Councilman FRANK DICICCO (City Council's First District, Philadelphia): You got to look at it as a whole not just an isolated area, what it means to the city of Philadelphia in terms of job creation, in terms of the taxes that will reduce the wage tax, but also the wage taxes and sales taxes and all the other taxes you're going to generate by having this business located in the city.
TRINDLE: Foxwood's development company which holds one of the licenses from Pennsylvania's gaming board to put a casino in Philadelphia wouldn't comment for the story. At Chinatown's Mei Lai Wong(ph) Restaurant, David Chan says he's not sure whether it will be good or bad for business. But it's not up to him.
Mr. DAVID CHAN (Mei Lai Wong Restaurant): Everybody going to say, not in my backyard. I don't know what to tell this, no such thing is a 100 percent good, 100 percent bad. It depends. This is politics, so I don't think - if they want to put it here, I don't care. I don't know if we have much choice.
TRINDLE: But opponents like Debbie Wei aren't giving up.
Ms. WEI: You know, legislation can be passed and then it can it be unpassed. And decisions are made that are not always in the best interest of the people. And this is kind of a time honored tradition of American democracy.
TRINDLE: Wei says despite a history of setbacks, Chinatown residents have successfully fought off the construction of a prison and a stadium, and they'll fight the casino too. In Philadelphia, I'm Jamila Trindle for NPR News.
COHEN: More to come on Day to Day.
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