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Rep. Wheatley responds to task force: Hill doesn't want Isle of Capri


State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Pittsburgh, responded to a city task force's recent recommendation on which slots applicant would be best for Pittsburgh. He also provided an outline of his reasons for his recent vote against a bill to revise the slots law.

“It's unfortunate that the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force chose to go this route of virtually endorsing the Isle of Capri proposal, especially since they didn't release supporting documents on how they reached this decision. It's worth noting that the task force's own letter admits that the task force currently lacks all the information needed to evaluate one of the two other slots proposals,” Rep. Wheatley said.

Rep. Wheatley said the task force doesn't speak for him or most residents of the Hill District, where the Isle of Capri casino would be located.

“This task force was appointed by a mayor who chose not to run for re-election and it has no real authority to speak on behalf of the entire city about what's best for the city. People on the Hill don't want the casino, especially not without significant concessions to the community that are currently lacking. The Isle of Capri proposal is the only one of the three in a residential area,” Rep. Wheatley said.

Mr. Wheatley represents all three of the possible locations for a slots casino in the city, and he said the Isle of Capri option isn't the best.

“I encourage the state Gaming Control Board to continue fully looking into the Pittsburgh options on its own. The board cannot rely on the task force's comments as somehow representing the voice of the entire city,” Wheatley said.

Rep. Wheatley also explained why he voted last week against a bill to revise the slots law. He gave three major reasons for his vote against S.B. 862:

• The current bill would take away Pittsburgh's local zoning authority over whatever casino the state approves in the city. “I am encouraged that some senators are now talking about dropping that provision. I hope the bill that comes back from the Senate does preserve local control over zoning for Pittsburgh,” he said.

• The current bill also would make it harder for ex-offenders to find work. It would start the 15-year ban on working in the gaming industry from the time a person finishes serving his or her sentence or probation, rather than the date of conviction. “A lot of people want to turn their lives around and this bill would keep them from working as janitors or dishwashers or anything else in this massive new industry in Pennsylvania. That's wrong,” Mr. Wheatley said.

• The current bill also infringes on local authority like that of Allegheny County to ban smoking in public places. “By exempting casinos from local smoking bans, this bill would block efforts to protect public health, especially the health of people working in the casinos, and it would give casinos an unfair advantage over other local businesses,” Rep. Wheatley said.

Mr. Wheatley said he does support several of the reforms included in the bill. In particular, he is encouraged that it still includes his proposal to increase yearly funding by $2.5 million for compulsive problem gambling treatment once slots are operational in Pennsylvania.

Rep. Wheatley previously won approval to increase the yearly funding from $1.5 million to $4 million. The money would come from dedicating a larger share of slots proceeds to the program.


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