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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,099
Nov. 4, 2021
Do Casinos Deserve Support?
By Mike McManus

Four Virginia cities will open a casino in the next couple years and Richmond voters appear to have narrowly opposed it in a referendum this week. With 71 of 72 precincts reporting, 51.4% of voters opposed a casino.

While there are strong arguments against casinos which I summarize below, the Richmond plan has very wide support ranging from the NAACP to business and civic leaders.

If approved, the $5.7 billion project will create 3,000 construction jobs and 1,500 new permanent jobs (with profit-sharing). ONE Casino & Resort promises to contribute $16 million annually to local charities and colleges. ONE will generate more than $500 million in new tax revenue to Richmond over the next decade. That will help keep taxes on individuals and corporations down.

Not a dime will be spent by the city to build the casino. It will be a "state-of-the-art" entertainment destination in an industrial area of the city. The project will include 15 unique restaurants and bars, 250 luxurious hotel rooms and a theater for 3,000 people that will bring the best in entertainment and music to the city. There will also be an on-site radio and television studio and soundstage plus 20,000 square feet of event space.

The property will also feature a 50-acre green space with gardens and miles of bike trails, a one-acre festival lawn, a playground for all ages and abilities, dog parks and fitness trails plus a walk-through arboretum open to everyone.

On the downside, casinos in other states near Virginia such as Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia promised similar benefits - but all have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. John Ukrop, a longtime business, civic and cultural leader in the Richmond area, asserts "The argument is always the same: build a casino and the dollars will follow, but data tells another story."

"In terms of local economics, studies regularly show that surrounding property values plummet, nearby businesses see less foot traffic and hotel rooms are frequently unused." He asserts that Richmond residents have avoided casino development for so long that the promises of promoters seem persuasive. For example, casino promoters promise $500,000 a year to local nonprofits over five years.

"While that's a commendable gesture," says Ukrop , "those numbers are based on projections, not realities. There is no guarantee any of these dollars will get to the organizations they are touting if the money is not in the bank."

The biggest negative to casinos is the fact they target vulnerable residents - lower income people, retirees and those most at risk to become addicted to gambling. The poor naively see casinos as a quick way to get rich.

On the other hand, the failures of casinos in some cities does not predict failure in Richmond. Its backers will invest a huge sum if approved - $5.7 billion, because they believe it will result in billions of revenues. If 1,500 permanent jobs are created, as projected, those people will pay taxes and will purchase many goods from local stores. It will be a major boost to the region's overall economy.

The casino will also be a tourist attraction, generating new jobs and tax revenues.

In addition, there will be 3,000 construction jobs and $500 million in new tax revenues from the casino which will provide fresh assistance to schools and local government - without any need for increased government spending by them.

What's remarkable is how broad the support for the project is. Eight of the city's nine City Council members back the plan. As previously noted, so does the Richmond NAACP. That's amazing since black and brown people are more likely to see gambling as a way out of poverty.

Another plus is that the project is expected to generate $500 million in new tax revenue over the next decade. Even if the revenue is half of that figure, it will keep local taxes down while providing funds for schools, roads and other city priorities.

The city will also add a 50-acre green space with gardens, miles of bike trails, a one-acre festival lawn with a playground for all ages, dog parks, fitness trails and a walk-through arboretum. Even if the casino fails in 20 years, the parks would be a new addition to Richmond.

Therefore, I should enthusiastically back the project. I have no interest in going to gamble - nor do any of my friends. The failure of so many casinos in nearby states is a warning. Instead of squandering money in slot machines and risk losing funds for rent and food on the table, gambling often becomes addictive - a danger of them and their families' well-being.


Copyright (c)2021 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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