The Packer Park Civic Association held a Zoom conference on Feb. 1 to rally residents against the proposal, which will be heard by the city’s zoning board on Feb. 10 at 2 p.m.
The Zoom conference was attended by more than 100 people online in addition to a small group of civic members who broadcast the meeting from the Philadium bar on Packer Avenue in the midst of the snowstorm. Representatives from both Parx Casino and Chickie’s & Pete’s made comments online, stating that the new sports book wouldn’t change operations much at the popular restaurant.
“It’s a legal thing now,” Ciarrocchi said. “It just came out about two years ago and it’s legal, and people are using it all the time. They are betting everywhere. Whether they are betting on their phone, or in person, it makes for a great experience. The people who watch sports are the people who bet sports. It’s the same customer.”
The Packer Park Civic Association, area businesses and local residents disagreed and expressed concerns about the clientele that off-track betting would bring to a residential neighborhood.
“It doesn’t bring in the millionaire smoking the cigar and kicking back,” said resident Greg Gentile. “It brings in people who are betting this month’s rent or next month’s mortgage. And when they leave, they’re going to be looking in cars and breaking windows for change. We don’t need that in our community. We support (Ciarrocchi) but we don’t want to see that business here. You could put this in a minefield, and people would go to bet. You don’t have to put this 150 feet from people’s homes.”
Parx’ application seeks to move its off-track betting site at the South Philadelphia Turf Club at 700 Packer Ave. about nine blocks west to lease a 2,600-square-foot area inside the Chickie’s & Pete’s restaurant, which anchors the Packer Park Shopping Center. The establishment says it would designate 59 seats inside Chickie’s & Pete’s for the purpose of sports betting and pari-mutuel wagering space, which would include kiosks, tellers and three security guards. The sports book would operate only during restaurant hours, and Parx officials say most activity would wrap up close to midnight on weekends when the bar is open until 2 a.m. No additional signage or additional entrances are included in the application, and no additional construction is permitted.
Residents and civic leaders believe the sports book would bring additional crime to a densely populated area.
“We don’t want this in our neighborhood,” said Packer Park Civic Association board member Rob Rabena. “We can not be any more emphatic. We don’t want more cars and more trash. OTB brings a totally different element. Pete, we have supported you since day one, but we have never been more opposed to this.”
Ciarrocchi has partnered with Parx for 11 years at the Bucks County casino, and the two also do business via sports book at the Chickie’s & Pete’s location in Egg Harbor Township. But both locations are remote from residential properties and have ample parking.
“You can drive by the Turf Club at any time and see 40 or 50 cars in the lot and they just sit there for hours at a time,” said Anthony Messina, who owns the Pastificio Deli Packer Park Shopping Center. “That can affect us big time. I’ve had a hard time getting customers in now.”
Ciarrocchi defended his stance, stating he employs 128 workers from South Philly’s 19145 and 19148 ZIP codes and said a sports book will help his business, which has been greatly affected by the pandemic.
“We’re going to do everything right by our employees and right by the neighborhood,” Ciarrocchi said. “We’re here, my hat in my hand saying please listen to us and understand that we would not do anything to tarnish the neighborhood.”
Residents and nearby business owners believe they were blindsided by the application. Arthur Novello, VP of Packer Park Civic Association, lives 150 feet from the restaurant and says he was one of many who were left in the dark.
“What is so concerning to me throughout the last several months is the lack of transparency from the entire Chickie’s & Pete’s organization with the neighborhood,” Novello said. “We know about this whole process surreptitiously. We were not informed. No one heard anything about what the proposal was. Please, don’t put this here. Put it somewhere where there aren’t children and grandchildren being raised, and there aren’t senior citizens who care about their safety and security.”