Letters To The Pilot

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Our Readers Respond

A casino just doesn't fit


I have been following the newspaper reports about a proposed casino on Storm Lake, and want to express my concern as a Storm Lake resident and taxpayer. There are many economic and social repercussions associate with bringing a casino to Storm Lake.

Quality research has been done on this issue. I know people will hear views expressed that casinos bring in revenue and jobs, revitalizing depressed areas of town and/or historic landmarks, and provide entertainment for responsible people. Proponents of casinos say they generate positive economic impact and that concerns of increased crime, and problem gambling, tend to be overrated and do not outweigh the benefits a casino supposedly would bring into a community. The most recent and comprehensive studies of casinos and their impact on communities reach a different conclusion.

I have learned from published work by university professors in Illinois, Georgia and Vermont that casinos bring in revenue, but with mixed results. According to their research, a casino would need to be taxed between 61% and 96% of its revenues to equal the economic costs it imposes on a society. Nationwide, counties that added casinos did not do better than those that did not. New jobs a casino might provide would take jobs from other places. Casinos reportedly bring in tourist revenue to communities, but they also bring in disproportionate criminal activity. The top tourist destination in 1994 was the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. The research shows that 7.7 million more visitors went to Bloomington, than did Las Vegas in 1994, yet Bloomington had a crime rate less than 1/15th of the rate for Las Vegas. Tourists in themselves are not crime producers, but the casino tourists are a different type of tourist. Research also shows that counties with casinos have higher rates of crime than non-casino counties, costing taxpayers over $60 per adult each year [Grinols & Mustard, 2001.]

Research also shows that when casinos have various services such as restaurants, different entertainment, etc., visitors stay near the casino and do not tour other areas of interest and commerce [Stokowski, 1999]. A casino would detract from our other community attractions.

Considering the percentage of people who gamble, only 2-5% of the population is considered problem and pathological gamblers. Sixty-six to eighty percent of gambling revenues comes from the small percentage who gamble the most. These heavy gamblers often end up in trouble. Within the first few years, research shows little to no extra crime, but after heavy gambling debts accrue, crime and heavy social effects come into play. Savings are depleted, loans from family and friends run out, and stresses on family situations develop. It is hard to measure all aspects of societal impact due to privacy issues with social services agencies, and groups such as Gambling Addiction and other non-profit groups who step in to help having different record-keeping styles. But these negative socio-economic impacts are real. [Grinols & Mustard].

The initial costs of casinos to small communities nationwide have been problematic. Improvements such as parking, widening roads, increased traffic control, housing, emergency services... demand a larger portion of a budget. If a casino gets a better offer from another community, it can leave and the residents are left with a hefty bill and less revenue to pay it. This happened to Central City, Colorado.

Research also shows that residential populations such as Deadwood, S.D., Central City and Black Hawk, Colorado changed significantly within a year after casino gaming moved in. People in Deadwood started moving out of their community. "In gaming communities, 29 to 44 percent of residents surveyed said they would like to move away from their town now that it had adopted gambling." Nearly half of the people in the Colorado towns moved out after gaming came in. Lower income people were harmed when affordable housing was displaced for parking, and when rents increased. [Stokowski, 1999].

Casino gambling is a form of "entertainment" that can be costly to a person's financial future, family stability and retirement. I have personally witnessed a college student's despair when told by the director of financial aid that the money he thought had been deposited in his account had instead been gambled away by his step-father. That is a breakdown of a family. It's costly, in dollars and ways that can't be measured in dollars.

I encourage people to vote down any proposal to include casino gambling in the Lakeside/Storm Lake area. Some people would suggest that a casino would be the answer for our community. Restoring the Cobblestone to usefulness is a worthy goal, but bringing a casino to our community is a risky means to that end. The benefits may prove elusive, the negative impacts are unavoidable.

I would also suggest that we pursue adding more entertainment venues that strengthen families rather than weaken them. Examples might include a summer theatre for the Cobblestone Inn. Mahoney State Park between Omaha and Lincoln runs a successful summer theatre... Dinner theater might also be an option for the Cobblestone. People I've talked to love the idea. Drama students from Iowa colleges might find summer theater a valuable internship opportunity. Miniature golf courses, horseback riding and nature trails could also be brought in and added to the lake area.

One other consideration is the lake itself. It is one of the outstanding features of our community. It has been preserved and protected. Efforts to encourage use and tourism are appreciated. That's what a lot of the Destination Park planning is about. Will guests at the Destination Park's rustic lodge want to look out on the bright neon lights of a casino? Do we want to see the lights of the casino across the water? A casino would destroy the natural beauty of the lake and the small town atmosphere we appreciate. A casino just doesn't fit.

- Julie Clipperton, Storm Lake