Friday, April 14, 2006

A Very Bad Idea

I don’t read the local newspaper. Occasionally on Sundays, I’ll steal Grandma’s crossword puzzle, but overall, I think The Buffalo News lacks character. And this city screams character. Every once in a while an article does catch my eye. Like this one, printed yesterday.

In an absolutely stunning turn of events, the Seneca Nation is aiming its casino at local residents rather than focusing on bringing in tourism to the area. They disclosed this information in an SEC filing. Can this be true? Is the goal of these purported saviors of the city just to make money, and not worry about where it is coming from? Oh, the shock.

I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again. A casino in downtown Buffalo is a VERY BAD idea.

But casinos bring in jobs, you say. Casinos bring in jobs, but 85% of them are living wage jobs. The people working these jobs make almost enough money to care for themselves. These types of jobs do not support families. Does Buffalo really need that? No.

But casinos bring in other jobs, you say. Yes, the construction jobs come, but they don’t last. Casinos, when built well, are specialized buildings with high-end, or singular materials, not usually found locally. Don’t believe me? Ask me sometime about the renovation job I did at Foxwoods and the painted gold leaf ceiling that only one person on the entire East Coast was capable of installing.

But casinos generate revenue for the city, you say. How, exactly? Yes, they might give a small percentage of their slot machine intake to the city, but that is where the money stops. Casinos are built to keep the people spending money on the inside of their walls, not the outside. Why would they want you to buy a meal at a local restaurant when you can dine on the all you can eat buffet for $9.95? Why spend a night in a local hotel when you can sleep right next to the slot machines (trust me, if they put in a casino, they’ll put in a hotel).

The city has to account for increased services – more police, more firemen, and more public utility workers. Our taxes pay for those. The city also has to account for maintaining the infrastructure (streets, sidewalks, phone lines, electric, water, etc.) and in this case, actually building it. Our taxes will cover that as well.

But casinos enrich the local community with entertainment opportunities, you say? Casinos cost people their livelihood, their homes, their families, their businesses. Local people. I grew up in a quiet town in Southeastern Connecticut. In college, my drive time to school increased by 45 minutes because of some Indian Bingo Hall that had just started a casino. This I found to be the ultimate annoyance.

By the time my 21st birthday rolled around, Foxwoods was on its way to becoming the largest gaming facility in the Western hemisphere. They had a service window where you could refinance your mortgage to get more gambling money. The head counts at the local homeless shelters and soup kitchens had tripled. At least 10 of the areas best restaurants had closed or were now under new management.

This sleepy little town was Stonington, Connecticut. There is another town close by, you might have heard of it – Mystic. Mystic has a word famous Aquarium, a 19th century seaport, and before the casinos came, more tourists come to Mystic in a year than to Buffalo in five. Look what the casino has done there. What do you think it would do here?

Nothing good.