Mention the word "casino" in my neighborhood — Society Hill — and you'll get strong opinions on many sides of the gambling issue. Many people living in the waterfront neighborhoods of Pennsport, Queen Village and Society Hill do not want their quality of life to deteriorate with the influx of the gambling population, nor do they want our already overcrowded roads to become impossible for locals to do their shopping.
Others, however, see the need to create jobs in Philadelphia, and the casinos promise many opportunities. A third group accepts the casino concept as just one more place to go to have some fun. Yet another group suggests a location closer to our sports complexes, similar to what Pittsburgh has done.
Sad to say, now Steve Wynn, who has come in as a key player in the latest plan, has added another element to the mix: stereotyping the gamblers from the surrounding neighborhoods as Jews and Italians who like to shoot craps and gamble.
If demographics were the motivation for putting Foxwoods in our neighborhood, then Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and the investors do not know the waterfront communities very well. Many of us have fought long and hard to be heard about the casinos. Now, Wynn has added a dimension that's intolerable to many of us.
Here is what Matt DeJulio, administrator of the Society Hill Civic Association, wrote to the Sons of Italy after Wynn's remarks were reported: "I want to call your attention to the latest slur against our people as stated by Steve Wynn as he tries to ram through a casino that few of the local residents want." DeJulio alluded to a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article in which Wynn suggested that Italians and Jews love to gamble. "Most of us are not gamblers and we do not need on our historic waterfront — a big box that promotes crime and corruption," DeJulio added.
The innuendo is equally offensive to Jews. Many do not want to be stereotyped as gamblers. I wonder who Wynn talked to in our community. His comments make me think they are off the cuff, and based on his lack of contact with the communities in which he wants to put Foxwoods. Many people — Jewish and non-Jewish alike — have worried about the effect on people who cannot afford to gamble away their savings or their weekly paycheck.
Yes, Philadelphia needs to expand its job base. Yes, there have been many plans to develop the waterfront for housing and recreation, and many people in our community have been active in these plans. I do not think, however, that Steve Wynn served any useful purpose by suggesting that Jews and Italians will run out to hit the slots as soon as his complex is up and running.
Many in the community have protested the casinos per se, and we have challenged their locations in the middle of neighborhoods; Foxwoods is slated to be constructed across from a historic church.
We have written our checks to fight the efforts. It is a shame that the argument for casinos has stooped to this level.
A recent article on AOL listed Philadelphia as the 20th most miserable city in the country.
The causes, they suggest, include pollution, high crime and long commutes. Though I do not agree that we are a miserable city, I do not see casinos alleviating these problems.
As we always have, Jews will work to build a better Philadelphia. Casinos, it seems, are a "done deal." But we can still ask: Why not put Foxwoods in a more user-friendly environment?
Carole Le Faivre-Rochester is editor emeritus of the American Philosophical Society. She has worked for the Philadelphia Jewish Archives for many years, and served on the boards of Society Hill Synagogue and the Society Hill Civic Association.