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Reading would hit the jackpot with a downtown casino

Dec 08, 2017 • by Mike Zielinski, Host of The Mike Zielinski Show
Mike Zielinski

Downtown Reading needs a major destination to activate the pavements with people and throttle more life into the place.

Granted, the IMAX theater, the GoggleWorks, the DoubleTree, hockey and indoor and outdoor concerts keep the place from being a nocturnal ghost town.

But they aren’t enough. We need to light up the place with neon every day and night.

Sure, it would be beyond awesome if big-time developers and entrepreneurs were flocking to transform Reading into a sterling monument of revitalization. Don’t hold your breath. You would be better off waiting for Godot.

Amazon, Google and Disney aren’t coming to town.

Which is why I’m all in on a casino in the 400 block of Penn Street.

So is the mayor. So is city council. We’re betting that such a casino would facilitate economic development and additional tax revenue.

The city owns five buildings near Fifth and Penn streets that are symbolic of the hallow downtown. Looking at rain-streaked windows in abandoned buildings in the heart of the city is the definition of depression. It connotes hopelessness, if not downright despair.

Reading Mayor Wally Scott would like to sell those five buildings to a developer looking to open a casino downtown, replacing one of them with a parking garage.

City Council is marching in lockstep with the mayor, which is why it unanimously passed a resolution urging the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to approve a mini-casino in Reading.

As you know, the state has had more trouble balancing its budget than my wife in recent years. Which is why cash-starved Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law a measure to allow 10 new satellite casinos statewide as a way to cover the state’s budget deficit.

Satellite casinos could have 300 to 750 slot machines and up to 30 table games to begin and potentially add another 10 table games after a year.

Heck, folks are gambling everywhere and anywhere. It used to be just Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Now they’re surrounding us — Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Valley Forge Casino in King of Prussia, and Parx Casino in Bensalem.

Folks from Reading and Berks County are going there to gamble. Let’s save them gas money and have them do it in downtown Reading.

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance sees the potential benefits of a casino, which include local taxes that the state Office of the Budget estimates will total between $2 million and $4 million a year for host municipalities when the facility is fully operational, a figure that would be capped at 50 percent of the municipality’s budget.

In Reading, the 2018 budget is $92.6 million, so the cap would not be an issue.

Host counties would also receive a share of taxes, with the majority going to the state.

A casino in Reading would mean more jobs, including more cops to eradicate any increased crime riding piggyback with the casino and thereby keeping our downtown safe.

One of the primary reasons people gamble is that it’s human nature to feel excited when taking a risk. The sense of anticipation creates a natural high, an adrenaline rush.

Gamblers realize that it’s a high-risk, low-yield situation. The odds always favor the house. Nevertheless, the thought and excitement of hitting a casino jackpot are often too alluring – regardless of its probability.

Life is full of gambles and people take them.

We don’t want tumbleweed blowing through the center of town. Penn Street deserves better than to be Desolation Row.

Which is why I applaud the mayor and council for pushing their chips to the center of the table, for realizing that going for a casino is a prudent gamble.

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