It happened quicker than it takes to finish an order of crab fries. The Philadelphia’s Zoning Board of Adjustment voted on Wendesday against a plan that would put off-track betting and a sportsbook in a Chickie’s and Pete’s in South Philadelphia.
However, they have had months to digest all the arguments before making a decision. Since January, meetings have been held to decide whether Parx Casino’s South Philadelphia Race & Sportsbook could relocate to the Chickie’s and Pete’s on Packer Avenue about a mile away.
During the streamed virtual vote, the Zoning Board voted against the relocation 4-1. Chairman Frank DiCiccio was the only vote for relocation.
A legal challenge by Parx remains possible
Parx sought zoning approval to move the South Philadelphia Race and Sportsbook currently located at 700 Packer Avenue. The new $700 million Live! Philadelphia Casino is located directly across the street. A Chickie’s and Pete’s in a small shopping small shopping center near a residential neighborhood represented the spot of the rejected plan.
A legal challenge remains possible. However, there is no decision about that yet, according to Parx co-counsel Mark Stewart.
Stewart expressed disappointment with the vote:
“Their action was contrary to the City Planning Commission’s favorable recommendation and the strong record justifying the special exception. We will await the Board’s written decision before making any decisions on next steps.”
The Packer Park Civic Association vehemently opposed South Philadelphia Race & Sportsbook, also known as the Turf Club, moving their OTB and sports betting operations. Attorney Paul Boni represented the Packer Park Civic Association. He saw the rejection as a decision by the government to protect a residential neighborhood.
“A purpose of a zoning code is to protect the community,” said Boni. “People can debate whether gambling parlors are already located too conveniently near residential communities. This proposal was to install a sportsbook into a neighborhood shopping center, into an establishment that caters to children. Government is beginning to see that there should be some limit.”
Heated arguments and a surprise decision on Parx request
The 4-1 vote to nix the move was a surprise. The zoning board previously allowed the application to move ahead as a “special exception” instead of the vigorous variance approval format.
Stewart noted there was also an endorsement of the project just before the vote from the city’s Planning Commission. Representative Ian Hagerty said the Planning Commission did not expect much impact from the proposal.
The vote was also somewhat of a surprise given PA gambling expansion, the legalization of sports betting, and the ability of people 21+ with PA sports betting apps to wager anywhere in the state.
At one point during the contentious meetings, Michael Mattioni, a lawyer for Parx pointed out that you could bet on sports right now at Chickie’s & Pete’s.
Matthew Cullen, Parx’s senior vice president for iGaming and Sports added:
“You can sit in church and bet on your phone if you want to.”
Neighborhood association thrilled with decision
The Packer Park Civic Association’s community group vigorously fought the plan with a petition. A protest rally featured signs warning “Greedy Petey” that the proposal was unwanted.
Barbara Capozzi, the leader of the Packer Park group, hailed the decision in support of local residents.
“Our residents are strong and vocal and we joined together to have a say in what happens here. We look forward to Chickie’s & Pete’s – as a family restaurant – continuing to be a part of our neighborhood for many years to come.”
Allowing OTB wagering automatically allows sports betting
Wednesday’s decision could have implications beyond just the South Philadelphia Chickie’s & Pete’s.
Approving horse racing automatically piggybacks approval for more lucrative sports wagering. Stewart said stand-alone pari-mutuel racing is no longer a business model that works.
Parx partnered with Pete Ciarrocchi, the owner of Chickie’s & Pete’s sports bars. Ciarrocchi has not responded to PlayPennsylvania for a request for comment. There is a Chickie’s and Pete’s location in Parx Casino in Bensalem and there are plans for one at a mini-casino in Shippensburg.
Parx and Chickie’s and Pete’s have plans for placing horse race wagering and sportsbook operations in additional locations in the Greater Philadelphia area. The expanding chain has over 15 locations and more in the pipeline.
Petitions seeking approval to move more OTBs still pending
Since January, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission has sat on petitions seeking the relocation of three Parx OTBs tied to Chickie’s and Pete’s locations, including the Packer Ave. location, without taking action for months.
The commission has two other similar requests pending in addition to South Philadelphia. The commission meets next on June 29.
One is to move the shuttered Oaks Race and Sportsbook in Montgomery County to a location at 10 Liberty Boulevard, in Malvern, Chester County, where a new Chickie’s and Pete’s is planned.
The other was the Turf Club location at 150 S. 69th St. in Upper Darby, which had closed a decade ago. That petition seeks to relocate operations to the Chickie’s and Pete’s at Pilgrim Gardens Shopping Center at 5035 Township Line Road in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby.