As diners in Phillies jerseys streamed into a packed Chickie’s & Pete’s sports bar in South Philly on the same night as the televised men’s March Madness final, a civic association rallied in the parking lot at 15th Street and Packer Avenue.
A crowd of 65 organized by the Packer Park Civic Association listened as its president, Barbara Capozzi, and their lawyer, Paul Boni, traded off on the bullhorn. Still, their spiels appeared to have little effect on those heading inside to eat or drink while watching sports.
Against moving Parx gambling outlet moved to restaurant location
The group is fighting to prevent zoning approval for Parx Casino to move sports betting and pari-mutuel operations of the South Philly Turf Club from 7th and Packer to the residential area a few blocks away.
The current location for the off-track betting outlet sits in the shadow of the newly-opened Live! Casino Philadelphia. The Turf Club and other Parx OTB outlets are either struggling or have closed.
The civic group labeled the proposal to make a 2,607 square-feet portion of the existing Chickie’s & Pete’s restaurant into a “high-tech predatory gambling operation,” which they claimed would increase crime and addiction. They also say the plan is fueled by the “greed” of C&P’s owner, Pete Ciarrocchi.
Chickie’s & Pete’s partnering with Parx for several gambling outlets
Chickie’s & Pete’s has 17 locations, including a spot inside Parx Casino in Bensalem, where a race track and pari-mutuel racing venue also operate. C&P’s has offered horse wagering for several years at a location in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey and the chain hopes to make additional Pennsylvania locations into outlets featuring OTB and sports betting.
Sean McGranaghan, the South Philly location’s general manager, watched the demonstration, unfazed, as a server passed out Crab Fries, the restaurant’s signature dish, in the parking lot.
Parx went almost unmentioned by the group.
Should the proposal win zoning approval, the group threatened a boycott of the restaurant chain.
Philly zoning approval still pending for gambling outlet
The zoning board has taken hours of testimony already during three previous meetings. The next meeting happens on May 18 at 10 a.m.
The board has already rejected advice from the city’s Law Department to require a variance approval. As a result, the city’s own lawyers may challenge the zoning board’s decision.
The city’s zoning code requires a location to hold a casino license to operate sports gambling, said a city lawyer.
Does a legal gambling outlet in Philly need to be a casino?
City attorney Leonard Reuter said that’s because the city’s zoning law language varies from the wording of state gaming regulations. He further suggested current Turf Club operations may not be legal since there was no zoning review for betting there. Sports wagering began there two years ago.
The Turf Club property is up for sale, and potential buyers include a sports team and Live!
Racing Commission also still required
The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission must also approve the move.
Petitions seeking the changes expressly asked the commission to approve the requests “on an expedited basis” and “without requiring a written public comment period or public comment hearing.”
Three off-track betting sites tied to Parx had quietly sought permission to relocate the licenses. The two additional suburban Philly sites include:
- Upper Darby in Delaware County
- Montgomery County (The Oaks)
To date, approvals remain pending.
According to a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, approval to move horse racing automatically allows an applicant to add sports wagering. The PGCB’s sole role is to test and approve sports betting systems and technology.