A proposal to relocate Parx off-track wagering operations from the South Philadelphia Turf Club to a nearby Chickie’s & Pete’s restaurant and sports bar resembles a steeplechase with jumps and hazards, despite being just eight straight blocks apart.
Similar proposals for the relocation of two additional Parx OTW locations in the Philly suburbs – one in Upper Darby and another in Montgomery County – to within the popular restaurant and sports bar chain locations nearby encountered no public opposition.
The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission has never previously been asked to relocate an OTW to a restaurant.
Racing Commission must approve relocations
The commission deferred action and did not publicly discuss the South Philadelphia Race and Sportsbook proposal at its Feb. 23 meeting.
It is unclear if the racing commission will consider the petition at its March 30 meeting. Parx had initially sought to expedite approval and asked the commission not to schedule a hearing on the plan.
Also unclear for now is how the commission will respond to a civic group’s counter-petition to Parx. The group is seeking a public forum to air its opposition. The civic group was supported by letters from three elected officials.
Civic association wants to be heard about Turf Club
The Packer Park Civic Association last week filed a 13-page counter-petition to the Parx proposal.
The document said, “We cannot imagine a stronger case for intervention.”
The association’s petition calls the location a “densely populated residential neighborhood,” with rowhomes abutting the location.
The petition also called the restaurant “a magnet for children” and claimed a playground is too close by. The group also cited crime, traffic, quality of life, and property values as issues. The full petition can be seen below.
Shannon Powers, a spokeswoman for the commission, said a written response to the civic group is expected, but there is no timetable.
Mark Stewart, a Harrisburg-based lawyer for Parx, declined comment.
But first up for Turf Club is Philly Zoning Board
Before facing the racing commission, the Turf Club plan first has a March 9 continuation of a Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing.
The city’s Department of Licensing and Inspections had initially classified the Parx and restaurant chain’s plan as a “special exception,” which sets a relatively low bar for zoning approval.
The civic group argued the city should have responded with what is known as a refusal. A refusal requires getting a variance, a far more stringent approval process.
The city’s Law Department has agreed that a refusal was warranted.
A city lawyer went further. He argued the city’s zoning code requires a location to be licensed as a casino to operate sports gambling. A Parx lawyer disagreed.
The racing commission will consider the ruling of the zoning board before deciding on the proposed move, according to its spokeswoman.
Stand-alone horse betting venues on their way out
In-person horse betting operations like OTBs are increasingly unsustainable businesses without other betting options on offer. And live horse racing bettors are an aging demographic.
But in general, having pari-mutuel gambling at a site allows for the addition of sports wagering under PA gaming regulations.
That economic reality is spelled out in Parx’s petition asking for approval to move from a huge building directly across the street from the new Live! Casino Philadelphia into a 2,600 square foot space within Chickie’s and Pete’s.
The petition reads:
“Absent the ability to co-locate facilities and take advantage of such relationships, the OTB concept will face significant challenges and continued closures, as the old model is not sustainable given current patron trends and existing facilities that are too large for the market.”