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Last Saturday, the Casino-Free Philadelphia Twitter feed read, “Today, we brought our communities to their casino. We beat the house. And we’ll be back.”

The tweet marked the end of an event called Beat the House, during which 100 trained anti-casino protesters sat inside and around Harrah’s Chester Casino in Chester, Pa., for nearly two hours, refusing to gamble.

The event was organized by Casino-Free Philadelphia, an organization that has spent the past three years fighting to keep casino developers Foxwoods and Sugarhouse from building in Philadelphia.

Other goals of Casino-Free Philadelphia include giving citizens a voice in the casino debate — Philadelphians have not been able to vote on casinos — and raising awareness of the connection between casino development and other issues such as environmental concerns, city planning and addiction.

At Saturday’s event, protesters brought together these goals to create the first event to bring protesters inside the walls of a casino.

Jethro Heiko, founder of Casino-Free Philadelphia, explained that “a lot of people felt a lot of power knowing they could go inside a casino and challenge the [casino] industry.”

Heiko described the opponent as an industry and stated that perpetuated “predatory gambling”, which he defined as gambling that is set up “to extract money from a community of people” by the amount and speed by which money is lost.

Protesters were met by an increased security presence that included state police, bag checks and removal of any press or persons with cameras.

Harrah’s declined to comment directly about the event.

In a written statement to the media, Vince Donlevie, senior vice president and general manager of Harrah’s Chester wrote, “While we support the First Amendment rights of all Americans to speak freely, it’s unfortunate that many of the anti-gaming comments by today’s demonstrators are belied by the facts.”

Donlevie’s statement also included information from Harrah’s about how the casino has benefited the local economy.

Because media was not allowed into the casino, Casino-Free Philadelphia believes they lost some of the exposure and “level of protection” the media provides, Heiko said.

But Heiko added that his organization is “always looking for ways to educate and engage the public.”

He said he was proud that this event saw participation from around the country, because anti-casino protesters from Philadelphia and elsewhere “can’t just tackle [casinos] as local issues but across state and city boundaries.”

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