As 2013, a gambling odyssey, begins, I’m trying to keep an open, but very skeptical, mind.
First, I’m skeptical as to whether I can write about this topic while refraining from the use of tired, gambling-related cliches. We’ll see.
Backers of building a casino somewhere in Cedar Rapids announced endorsements this past week from local economic development, tourism and labor groups. The investor group led by business executive Steve Gray has grown to 40 people. There was a lot of talk about the $85 million casino’s potential for huge economic benefits, 360 jobs, etc.
We’re also hearing rumblings from opponents. Owners of nearby casinos, who have made a great deal of money from gambling, will use some of it to make sure Cedar Rapids doesn’t cut into their action. These owners, for whom gambling has been very, very good, will join forces with folks who argue that gambling is very, very bad. Those opponents will contend that gambling is a societal scourge, preying on the poor, sucking dollars from worthier economic pursuits.
I’m skeptical of the notion that a casino here would be a big economic game-changer. Clearly, $85 million is nothing to sneeze at, but this is a city that just set a record for construction starts last fiscal year at $347 million. We’re already adding jobs and, as the mayor says, quiet confidence is growing in this city’s economic prospects. We’ll grow with or without gambling, and that’s a good thing.
I’m also skeptical that a casino puts us on the road to ruin. I will certainly listen to arguments about potential negative effects. Open minded, as I said. But after watching the state bless 18 casinos, it feels like we’re standing in the ashes, debating how to put out the fire.
Iowa’s lottery/racetrack/casino industrial complex is decades old, and our public pact with demon gambling has been expanded so many times it’s tough to keep track. Thanks to the invention of horseless carriages, loads of Linn County residents already gamble.
It’s a part of our economy. And like some other parts of our economy, it yields benefits and problems. Do people get addicted, go bankrupt and commit crimes? Yes. Then there are Vision Iowa, the Community Attraction and Tourism program and I-JOBS, which pumped gambling bucks into dozens of worthwhile economic pursuits in this state. Gambling has a bad reputation. And yet, communities with gambling tend to renew their referendums by very large margins.
And I’m actually more interested in the micro than the macro of this proposition.
Basically, we’re being asked to allow a gambling business to locate here. So I’m curious about the details of that business. I want to know where it will be built, who is going to run it, where its financing is coming from and what, exactly, it’s going to offer patrons. Just your basic journalistic “five Ws” stuff. I also want to hear from our elected leaders on how, precisely, this fits into their vision for the future development of Cedar Rapids.
As a voter, I’d like to know exactly what we’re getting. I don’t think I’m alone. I understand that it’s very early, and the petition drive comes first. But before we vote, casino backers really must show their hand. Dang. Almost made it.