I found myself nodding in agreement with a recent Another Voice column that discussed how a casino, because it is designed to be a "self-contained entertainment center," would hurt rather than help the downtown entertainment district. I nodded some more when the author pointed out that a Buffalo casino would be patronized almost entirely by local residents, bringing few tourist dollars into the area. But I shook my head in disbelief when he came to his final conclusion -- that a stand-alone casino would be just dandy.
First, let's be realistic. If the transfer of land to the Senecas is upheld in federal court, they will, of course, behave like the good businessmen they are and develop their property to the fullest. Without a doubt, they will open restaurants, nightclubs, shops and hotels -- their goal will be to keep gamblers in the casino, not to encourage them to explore the city. And since it is a sovereign nation, we will no more be able to control what businesses the Senecas operate than we could legislate what businesses are run in Canada.
But even a stand-alone casino would be devastating to our local economy. Gamblers use discretionary income that might otherwise be spent on clothing, appliances, televisions, furniture and so on. Every retailer will be hurt, as will hairdressers, dry cleaners and other service providers.
The only "spin-off jobs" Buffalo would see would be law enforcement jobs, addiction counselors, divorce attorneys and social workers who deal with the family problems associated with gambling addiction. Of course, most of these jobs will be in the government and not-for-profit sectors, leading to increased taxes and a strain on our social service system.
Earl Grinols, professor of economics at Baylor University and author of "Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits" states, "Gambling creates economic costs for society and taxpayers, including non-users." Grinols' analysis shows that, on average, the social costs from gambling are about $219 per adult annually. Some of these costs will be paid for by taxpayers. Others will be borne by businesses that are hurt either directly by embezzlement perpetrated by employees desperate to cover their gambling losses, or by the lost productivity created by employees' gambling-related problems.
Casino promoters promise to create thousands of jobs, but in cities across the country just the opposite has happened. According to John Kindt, a professor at University of Illinois, "The field research indicates that nationwide you stand to lose 1.5 jobs for every job the casinos create. In Chicago the field research indicated that 2 to 2.75 jobs would be lost if a land-based casino were built. . . . for every dollar legalized gambling interests indicate is contributed in taxes, it really costs the taxpayer three dollars to address the increased socioeconomic costs to society."
Lost jobs and increased taxes -- this will be the legacy of a Buffalo casino. Let's hope the lawsuit seeking to stop this abomination is successful. Our city's future depends on it.
Mary Bartley is co-chair of Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County and a member of Citizens for a Better Buffalo.