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A Casino in Trenton? A Bad Idea! Kill it Dead!!

Yesterday I discussed the poorly thought-out and argued “Plan for Jobs & Economy” released this week by Trenton mayoral candidate Walker Worthy as a central element of his campaign platform for the May election.

Altogether I find it very unconvincing, on several levels. Yesterday I selected only four of his points for any kind of discussion, and I found them all seriously wanting in terms of credibility, feasibility, and lacking estimates of potential benefits to Trenton and its citizens.

Although I could easily discuss some more of Mr. Worthy’s proposals, instead I would like to drill a little further into just one of his ideas. One of the main planks in his economic platform is “developing the city’s waterfront as a tourist draw, including a casino.”

As I wrote yesterday, I thought the proposal of a casino in Trenton sounded like a bad idea. I put my comments in the context of what I suggested may be a saturated market of too many Northeast casinos chasing what may be a limited number of gambling dollars. I also suggested that online gambling, legalized just last year in New Jersey for state residents, might further damage the prospects for a Trenton gaming establishment.

After some further thought and reading, I find that my notes yesterday were too focused on the business prospects of the casino, on the impact of a new entrant into an industry in which it would be hard-pressed to compete.

On reflection, I think that – although I still agree with all of the points I made yesterday – I did not address what probably should be the main reasons that a casino would be a singularly bad idea for Trenton.

Apart from it being a major component of Mr. Worthy’s campaign platform and of his economic development philosophy, I want to make the case that a casino is such a horrid idea for Trenton so strong that no other candidate for Mayor or Council will be tempted to pick up the idea for their own campaign. I  don’t want any other candidate to say “A casino is a good idea. Let’s do it!”

Because gambling in Trenton would be an utter catastrophe.

There has been a lot of research and a lot of press on the impact of gaming on urban environments lately, in the midst of what has been over the last 20 years an explosion of gambling throughout the US.

Not all of it is good. Let’s start with this article about casino development in nearby Philadelphia, in which Dan Keating, the project manager for Wynn Philadelphia, a huge project proposed for that city’s Fishtown neighborhood, was quoted.  Speaking about other proposed casinos suggested for Philly, he was reported as saying “while the Market 8 and Provence casinos [the other projects] are looking to create jobs and development in their neighborhoods, Keating said that they shouldn’t ‘no one should plan on a casino to bring about urban renewal,’ because that’s not what casinos do.” [Emphasis mine - KM]

If that’s the case, as admitted by a casino developer, then what benefit would such a business bring to a place like Trenton, and why in the world would a candidate suggest it in the first place?

But wait a moment! That quote came in an article written a few months ago in September 2013. Could Mr. Keating’s admission be considered sour grapes, or a rather unpolitic tactless admission of an inconvenient truth known by those inside the gambling business but never admitted in public?

Perhaps it is sour grapes. Because in November 2013, just two months after Keating’s quote, Wynn Resorts abandoned its plan to expand into Philadephia. Oh, well then.

But there is more! As reported in November on Philly.com the main reason that Wynn canceled its Philadelphia casino is, as included in a printed statement

“The board [of Directors] took a host of factors into consideration, including the Philadelphia market performance over the past year and the competition which will result from the recent approval of gaming in the State the [sic] New York. Consequently, the company will withdraw its licensing applications in Pennsylvania.”

Translation: There are already too many casinos in the region, and there will soon be more in New York. Wynn won’t make any money in Philadelphia. See ya!

So, where is any possible rationale for a Trenton casino?? Nowhere, that’s where!

But, I am sidetracked. I went off on another business argument. Back to “no one should plan on a casino to bring about urban renewal.”

Here is another article, titled “Top Urbanists Agree: Casinos Ruin Cities.” The arguments here cover a range of city experiments in gambling, citing examples ranging from well-off towns like Toronto to desperate contracting communities such as Detroit. From this article, let me just include this one statement by leading urban economist Richard Florida:

“Toronto’s business leaders like to think that they are helping to build a great global city, but casino building is city-ruining of the highest order. Virtually every serious study that has ever been done of the economic impacts of casinos shows that their costs far exceed their benefits and that they are a poor use of precious downtown land.”

“City-ruining of the highest order.” Keep that in mind in case you hear anyone in Trenton say that a casino might be a good idea!

I leave for last one more nail in the coffin.

Last year, the New York-based non-partisan Institute for American Studies released a 56-page, highly-sourced and footnoted paper on the economic and social impact of modern casinos. Titled, “Why Casinos Matter: Thirty-One Evidence-Based Propositions from the Health and Social Sciences,” this paper (you can download it here’ Press “Read PDF”) should be required reading, if the proposal of Trenton casinos takes on a life of its own apart from Mr. Worthy’s campaign. Which I hope to hell it doesn’t!

This post is long enough, but I think it is important to list each of this report’s 31 propositions, just in summary form. For full arguments and the footnoted sources backing them up, as well as the names of the scholars who wrote the study, you can go to the report itself.

I don’t think it will take much imagination when reading some of these to imagine the particular damage some of these propositions would cause, were they to come about in Trenton!

  1. Casino gambling has moved from the margins to the mainstream of American life.
  2. Today’s regional casinos are different from Vegas-style resort casinos.
  3. The new American casino is primarily a facility filled with modern slot machines.
  4. A modern slot machine is a sophisticated computer, engineered to create fast, continuous, and repeat betting.
  5. Modern slot machines are carefully designed to ensure that the longer you play, the more you lose.
  6. Modern slot machines are highly addictive.
  7. Modern slot machines are engineered to make players lose track of time and money.
  8. Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base.
  9. Living close to a casino increases the chance of becoming a problem gambler.
  10. Problem gambling is more widespread than many casino industry leaders claim.
  11. Problem gambling affects families and communities as well as individuals.
  12. Young people are viewed as the future of casino gambling.
  13. Working in a casino appears to increase workers’ chances of having gambling problems.
  14. Working in a casino appears to increase workers’ chances of having health problems
  15. The benefits of casinos are short-term and easy to measure while many of the costs are longer-term and harder to measure.
  16. Casinos extract wealth from communities.
  17. Casinos typically weaken nearby businesses.
  18. Casinos typically hurt property values in host communities.
  19. Casinos are the creation of state government and its public policies.
  20. State regulation of casinos creates a conflict of interest, in which the state is charges with protecting the public from the very business practices that generate revenue for the state and which the state is co-sponsoring.
  21. States are typically failing to protect their citizens from the harms of state-sponsored casino gambling.
  22. States are typically failing to provide adequate help for the treatment of problem and compulsive gambling.
  23. Some states are propping up failing casinos.
  24. Over time, casino expansion within a state and in nearby states can create a downward economic spiral of market saturation, sluggish state revenues, and failing casinos, marked by an ever-growing competition in which each state tries to lure other states’ citizens into its casinos.
  25. Regional casinos are a regressive source of revenue for the states.
  26. Research on gambling is largely funded by the gambling industry.
  27. Research on gambling funded by the gambling industry focuses overwhelmingly on the individual pathology and pharmacology of gambling addiction while avoiding research into machine design, player profiling, and other industry practices and technological innovations that foster gambling addiction.
  28. State sponsorship of casinos is a policy contributing to patterns of inequality in America.
  29. State sponsorship of casinos raises troubling ethical questions about fairness and equal treatment of citizens.
  30. Encouraging people to put their money into slot machines has historically been viewed as unethical.
  31. Encouraging legal gambling as “fun” entertainment and an all-American pastime is a historically new development.

Whew! After all these (and remember, for more detail on these propositions and citations on sources, you can go here) points, who all wants a casino in Trenton? Please raise your hand.

I thought so.

Walker Worthy is kind of tied to his proposal at this point. He only released it this week, and he can’t exactly abandon it now. He has to run on his plan, and be judged on it. Which doesn’t bode well for his chances, in my opinion.

I do hope, though, that I have at the very least raised enough of a concern, and created enough doubt about this, that no other candidate for Mayor or Council will touch the idea of legalized gambling in Trenton with a ten-foot pole.

After so many words on the topic, perhaps I could have summarized things much more succinctly:

If you liked the experience with Trenton’s Hotel, then you’ll love having a Casino!

I think that a casino would be even more disastrous for Trenton and its people than the hotel has been, hard as that is to believe.

This is a really, really, really bad idea! Let us not speak of it again, OK?

6 comments to A Casino in Trenton? A Bad Idea! Kill it Dead!!

  • Mr Harry W Chapman

    I am one that believes Casinos should only be built far away from urban areas. They should be confined to resort areas where you have to drive or use public transportation to travel some distance to get there. Your 31 facts are on the money as I had to deal with a loved one with a problem.

  • Kevin

    There a lot of other points in that list that would be disastrous for this town if they were to recur here.

    Can you imagine? MORE wealth being extracted? MORE damage to local businesses? MORE damage to local property values?

    No, thank you!

    Let alone all individual stresses and problems that would happen, such as your loved one. Who I very much hope got over that problem.

  • Freida

    Thanks for rationally pointing out what a monumentally bad idea this is. In a city that can not adequately manage a single hotel, one wonders to the point of headache how this even came into Mr. Worthy’s mind in the first place. And now, all but one single council member are endorsing this pie-in-the-sky thinker.

  • Kevin

    Thanks for the note, Frieda.

    To be fair to our Council people, they are not the ones who have come out nearly unanimously to endorse Walker Worthy. That would be our Mercer County Board of Freeholders.

  • ed w

    I thought it was enough of a gamble to just walk down the street and not be shot, now if we can just get these shooters to pay taxes the cities financial needs would be met.

  • Freida

    Thank you for correcting me. Although it is more unsettling (to me) when I realize it is the Mercer County Board of Freeholders.