You will believe Penguins can fly: Slots in Pittsburgh #1

A little over an hour ago, PITG Gaming Majestic Star was awarded the only slots casino license for Pittsburgh in a unanimous vote by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. PITG, pending appeals, can begin construction on their North Shore casino for a projected March 2008 opening. This vote came as a shock; anyone following this year-long-plus soap opera thought the license would go to either Forrest City Enterprises/Harrah's, which wanted to build a casino at Station Square, or Isle of Capri, the St. Louis-based casino owners who promised $290 million to the Pittsburgh Penguins to build a new arena and wanted to build a casino in the Hill District.

This decision will go down as one of the biggest mistakes in recent Pittsburgh history. Besides the traffic concerns that plagued every proposal, placing a casino on the North Shore will blight what has become one of the most attractive areas of Pittsburgh during this on-again, off-again third renaissance the city has been going through since the construction of PNC Park and Heinz Field. What is currently a pedestrian- and family-friendly open space will become enclosed and ridden with crime and drugs, centered around the casino. (And how convenient that it's based on the river; murderers can dump their victims in the Ohio, and despondent gamblers can plunge to their watery demise in a fit of post-I-lost-my-family's-savings depression.)

But on top of all that, Pittsburgh is most likely going to watch as the Pittsburgh Penguins, a professional sports franchise with nearly 40 years of history, walks away from the city once its sold to a new owner and its lease is up at Mellon Arena (which comes in June). For the yinzers in Pittsburgh, who cares; the Steelers are still here. For everyone else, Pittsburgh will be marked with the scarlet letter of infamy as one of only a handful of major American cities that has allowed a professional sports franchise to leave town. Unlike other cities, though, Pittsburgh is incapable of recovering. The city's too old and politically ill-equipped to handle to the negatives that will come from this.

This casino business -- and the Penguins situation -- will continue to evolve, probably at light speed, over the coming weeks. But for now, gaze upon a few conceptual views of the Majestic Star North Shore casino. At least the Penguins will be able to look at something pretty as they fly away.

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(All images courtesy Strada, LLC.)