The Empty Promises of Casinos

Omaha World-Herald

At best, destination casinos are in places that generally remain checkered destinations for daily living. This is worth remembering as Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s claim of 30,000 new construction jobs for three resort casinos appears to be crumbling.

An independent analysis done for the Globe says that as few as 4,000 to 5,000 jobs might be created. Even the Massachusetts Building Trades Council projects just 20,000 jobs. Just as important, it is unclear what casinos change. Take Atlantic City, N.J., Las Vegas and the state of Mississippi.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Atlantic City casino industry is in the midst of spending $20 billion to rehab its fading image as a Las Vegas wannabe.

Las Vegas casinos are in the midst of spending $35 billion to brighten their already blinding image. And the first thing Mississippi did after Hurricane Katrina was to make sure the Gulf Coast casinos reopened, changing all kinds of rules, including ones that let them be built on land instead of being constrained to structures floating on water.

Atlantic City, after three decades of having casinos, was described by The Economist as a place where “multimillion-dollar casinos are steps away from crime-ridden neighborhoods. A quarter of the 40,000 residents live below the poverty line.”

The Associated Press described it a year ago as a place where “a stone’s throw from the glittering, billion-dollar casinos, thousands of people live in grinding poverty in rundown houses surrounded by drugs and prostitutes. These are the neighborhoods that the state requires casinos to help by setting aside a portion of their revenue for development projects.”

It was exposed last year that New Jersey let the casinos take a significant portion of money supposedly meant to clean up such neighborhoods and funnel it back to their own projects. The New York Times wrote, “Atlantic City continues to grapple with blocks of dilapidated buildings and seamy motels that draw drug dealers and prostitutes, all within the shadows of towering, brightly lighted casinos.”

In Mississippi, the Washington Post wrote, “Nowhere has the rebound from Hurricane Katrina been gaudier than along Mississippi’s casino- studded coast.

“Even as the storm’s debris was being cleared, (Biloxi’s) night sky was lighted up with the high-wattage brilliance of the Imperial Palace, then the Isle of Capri, then the Grand Casino …. Yet in the wrecked and darkened working-class neighborhoods just blocks from the waterfront glitter, those lights cast their colorful glare over an apocalyptic vision of empty lots and scattered trailers that is as forlorn as anywhere in Katrina’s strike zone.”

This is despite those casinos racking up in 2007 a new record for revenues, nearly $3 billion.

Last fall, 24 ministers in the region said in a letter to state officials that “our recovery effort has failed to include a place at the table . . . for our poor and vulnerable.” Not to mention that Mississippi remains in the bottom five, according to statistics of the National Education Association, in per-pupil public school spending. Nevada’s casinos racked up a record $12.8 billion in revenues in 2007. But the Toronto Star says that “Nevada also leads in other areas, such as gun deaths, suicide and now home foreclosures. It has one of the worst public school systems in the United States. Bankruptcies are high. It ranks below average for the number without health insurance.”

According to the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, Las Vegas ranks 43rd out of 50 major metropolitan areas for its high school graduation rate, second to last for its college graduation rate and dead last for its volunteer rate.

The residents of Las Vegas are so disconnected that its volunteer rate of 14.4 percent is at least doubled by 25 other cities.

The Toronto Star quoted William Epstein, a social work professor at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas, as saying, “The state is intriguing. It’s very wealthy. Yet the services are near the bottom.”

There is little to suggest from the Atlantic City, Mississippi or Las Vegas experience with destination casinos that those at the bottom will rise up.

Derrick Z. Jackson

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Copyright (c) 2008 Omaha World-Herald 04/14/2008