Chester’s Harrah’s Racino, a racetrack and casino, opened on January 22, 2007, and renamed Harrah’s Philadelphia in 2012. At the time the opening, Chester Mayor Wendall N. Butler Jr. was heavily criticized for allowing the business into the already economically down-trodden city of Chester. But does Harrah’s benefit Chester?
Advantages: a casino can bring its nearby community some much-needed revenue, based on a few key factors:
- Taxes: Steep taxes on the casino.
- Entertainment: additional amenities and services from the casino, combined shopping center, theme parks.
- Tourism: casinos can bring people from distances away, and usually these tourists.
- Increased employment: casinos usually employ local residents.
- Increased community investment: from tax revenues and aforementioned benefits from casinos.
- Crime: Crime rates can spike near casinos.
- Increased gambling: This is the largest and negative perceived social costs from casinos
Many advantages listed above do not qualify Chester for the casino’s economic benefits: Besides the undisclosed taxes paid from gambling, businesses located on the waterfront qualify for Chester’s business tax exemption for 13 years. Its operating revenue has been around $20 million per month. There have been no public projects for which tax revenue from the casino invested. Other economic spillovers of the casino come from the nearby racetrack — another gambling option — and three restaurants.
The largest supposed contributor to local economic benefit is tourism. However, Harrah’s Philadelphia is located on Chester’s waterfront, away from the city’s concentration of small businesses and amenities. Also adjacent to the highway exit, tourists do not cross into any Chester downtown, residential or business districts to reach Harrah’s. The employment situation is not any more optimistic: a percentage of the unemployed workforce faces employment discrimination due to their recent history of criminal charges.
Although without statistical evidence, the claim that crime increases due to such an establishment is nevertheless disconcerting for Chester, where many live in poverty.
This social cost of addiction to gambling may or may not be quantified, but it is something few residents can afford. This lack of empirical evidence for the negative impact of Harrah’s in Chester is not entirely necessary because there is the lack of empirical evidence for the positive benefits — the conditions in which a positive effect is created lacks.