Casino Gambling a Risky Bet

by Kerry Dougherty

“I thought you were a libertarian,” a friend of mine said accusingly last week. “So why would you vote against casino gambling if you lived in Norfolk?”

I’m not against gambling, I explained. I just don’t want it in my backyard. There’s no benefit to society. Plus, it brings sleazy activity, crime and poverty to places that legalize it.

Gambling almost never lives up to the hype.

Last winter the General Assembly approved casino gambling for Virginia and allowed five “economically disadvantaged” cities; Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, Richmond and Bristol to hold referendums on the matter. Four of the cities vote next week. Richmond is holding off for a year.

What this means is that cities with more than their share of poor people will get casinos. I’m not sure that will work out the way the politicians think it will.

Notice that three of the five locations are spaced out over the state. But two will be cheek to cheek here in Tidewater.

Smart, huh?

Yes, yes, I know. Norfolk’s proposed casino will be built beside Harbor Park by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and they will supposedly spend $500 million on a luxurious casino with a 500-room hotel. Oh, and Norfolk will be swimming in money as a result of all the tuxedo-clad high rollers who will jet into town.

Un-huh. Dare to dream.

Of course, Portsmouth is also being asked to approve a smaller, $330 million project that will be run by a Chicago outfit called Rush Street Gaming .

If both projects are approved. Both are likely to be slimmed down.

Pay attention to the small print.

Instead of getting a glitzy casino like Las Vegas’ Bellagio, Tidewater could wind up with something more akin to the dreary riverboat gambling outposts along the Mississippi or the slots slums of Dover.

Heavy on one-armed bandits and video poker. Light on table games and big spenders. The sort of joints that bus in seniors and give them each a voucher for the all-you-can-eat buffet to fortify them as they blow through their Social Security checks.

Before voting, it’s worth reading this piece, “Atlantic City: The Fall of the Boardwalk Empire,” from The American Prospect. It examines the promise of casinos in Atlantic City and their ugly reality .

New Jersey voters approved casino gambling in the 1976 and the first casino opened in 1978.

Four decades ago, Atlantic City rolled the dice on the city’s future-and lost. In 1976, visions of dollars sloshing into municipal and state coffers lured New Jersey voters into establishing casino gambling into Atlantic City. It was the ultimate Faustian bargain: Gambling industry investments would save the fading grand dame of the Jersey Shore.

 What could go wrong?

In fact, everything…

Voters approved casinos in a statewide referendum, after initially rejecting them, amid considerable industry hype. The gambling industry would provide jobs and send money back into the community that had been in a steady decline after World War II — that was the theory, anyway.

Sound familiar? This wouldn’t be the first time Norfolk voters were blinded by a shiny object. Look at the disaster of light rail. And MacArthur Center, which now has tumbleweeds blowing inside.

I drank the Kool-Aid,” says Frank Nero, former New Jersey economic development official who was the mayor of the northern New Jersey town North Plainfield at the time. Atlantic City had the only casinos outside Las Vegas; it also had unemployment, crime, and decaying neighborhoods. “Casinos promised economic renewal,” Nero says.

But that rosy scenario never materialized. 

Indeed, it didn’t. In the four decades since casinos came to town Atlantic City’s crime rate has risen, graduation rates have fallen and the city — outside out of the casino area — is more impoverished than it ever was.

The casino industry’s business model – to drain dollars as quickly as possible from the pockets of people who, for the most part, can least afford to lose them – meant that residents had less to spend on local businesses and communities, which suffered in turn.

That’s the rub, of course. Every dollar that locals drop in whatever passes for a casino in Norfolk or Portsmouth is a dollar that won’t be spent in a local restaurant or movie theater. Plus, several studies have shown an increase in street crime with the arrival of casinos.

Muggings, that’s something they forgot to warn us about.

OK, maybe casino gambling will turn Norfolk and Portsmouth into Monte Carlo of the East Coast.

But it’s more likely that after the initial excitement wears off the projects will bring little more than low-paying jobs and new social problems to cities that are already struggling.

Vote carefully.

There are currently 1 comments highlighted: 172293.

51 responses to “Casino Gambling a Risky Bet

  1. How many Times have I said this….
    GOVERNMENT Picking Winners and LOSERS…
    If we’re going to have gambling why do certain localities get to have it and the rest of us not..,, I thought Liberal Democrats were all about FAIRNESS and EQUALITY…
    Only when convenient I guess…. a Pox on all of them…

    • I don’t know the attitudes now, but years ago some of the top folks at the shipyard, those familiar with both the Newport News and the Pascagoula, MS, operations, had plenty of heartburn over the gambling outlets in the Gulf Coast. But people have a right to be stupid with their own money — the state lottery is built on that. Those who depend on that level of short-term thinking and stupidity to fund their government spending should not be surprised by the same self-destructive thinking when it comes to following health dictates!

    • The most obvious place for casino gambling in Virginia is NoVa. That’s why Maryland’s MGM Grand is just barely over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from Alexandria in Prince George’s County, MD. You can see it from Old Town, Alexandria and you can take a water taxi from Old Town, Alexandria to go there if you like. But, of course, Maryland’s state legislature is competent and ours is a pack of half-wits beholden to whatever moneyed interest is willing to make the biggest campaign contribution to the Clown Show in Richmond.

      As for Kerry – shame on you! Another faux conservative who wants liberty and freedom for all unless that liberty and freedom impinges on her anal retentive need to play Nurse Ratchet. Go away, Kerry. If you don’t want to gamble, don’t gamble. If you don’t want to smoke pot, don’t smoke pot. If you don’t want to sleep with people of your own sex, don’t sleep with people of your own sex. Why is this hard for you?

      Is there anything more hypocritical than a “conservative” blubbering about freedom and individual rights as they try to invoke big government to limit freedom and individual rights?

      Seriously – go away, Kerry. You are a sad representative of the big government nanny state. Not a conservative. Not a libertarian. Just a BS artist.

      By the way, I guarantee you that I could place a bet within 5 minutes of arriving in your faux conservative redoubt of Hampton Roads.

      • DJ I’m surprised at your comments. “If you don’t want to gamble, don’t gamble.” I must have missed where Kerry said she did or did not want to gamble. “I’m not against gambling”

        She did say she didn’t see any benefit to society. What part of that statement did you disagree with. It would seem to be a general statement about the effect of gambling on society rather than her personally. Of course she can refrain from gambling if she wants. That would fall under the rubric of freedom, would it not? Your comments seem to be animated more by a general dislike of Kerry rather than anything she said.

        • I usually like Kerry’s work. I usually agree with her. In this case I think she’s using misdirection. She doesn’t think people should gamble so she uses the “not good for society” argument. Is Altria good for society? In a nation of obese people is Cinnabon good for society? Since when does a business have to be “good for society” for a conservative to think it should be allowed by the political class? Unnecessary government regulation is bad unless it regulates something you don’t like.

          As for Atlantic City – yeah, the gambling didn’t resurrect a dying city. But 18 states permit land based casinos while another 6 allow riverboat based casinos. What has happened in those areas? Of course, Kerry doesn’t have any comments about that.

          Here’s the crux of her argument, “That’s the rub, of course. Every dollar that locals drop in whatever passes for a casino in Norfolk or Portsmouth is a dollar that won’t be spent in a local restaurant or movie theater.”

          You see … Beyond being wrong the statement focuses on Kerry’s values and why she wants to impose those values on others by arguing against casinos. Restaurants and movies are good, blackjack is bad. So says Kerry.

          If conservatives or libertarians are ever going to make any headway in America they need to be consistent. If government regulations should be minimal then regulations against gambling should be stricken from the books. If abortion is murder then so is capital punishment.

      • Wow, that’s quite a rabid reaction to what I thought was a pretty measured piece. By my standards, anyway. I merely said if I lived in Norfolk, I’d vote no. I didn’t say I’m against gambling, because I’m not. I just don’t think casinos are the salvation some believe they will be for cities that are financially stressed. Just as horse racing did nothing for New Kent County – or Virignia’s horse breeding industry – this will likely be a blunder for Norfolk. It’s definitely dumb to have two casinos within spitting distance of each other. Surely we can all agree on that. I could see casino gambling at the Homestead, for instance. Or even at the Cavalier Hotel at the Beach. But the seedier versions of casino gambling don’t do much for the landscape and they tend to be a voluntary tax on the poor. Other than that, a big win for Tidewater.

        • Have you ever been to the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, FL? The Bellagio in Las Vegas? How about the riverboat casinos in Kansas City? MGM Grand in Prince George’s County, MD? The casinos in Detroit? There are 465 commercial casinos in the US. Why do you assume that whatever gets built in Norfolk will be seedy? There are lots and lots of nice casinos in the US. Yet you focus on Atlantic City and assume that any casino built in Virginia will be seedy. Why?

          Horse racing did nothing for New Kent County. Nothing good, nothing bad. How has horse racing done in Saratoga Springs, New York?

          As far as two casinos within “spitting distance” of each other – have you ever been to The Strip in Las Vegas? Why would two casinos bother you? Why would any conservative think that the government should regulate the number of casinos that can be built near one another? If one (or both) fail – why is it the government’s business? Businesses get built and fail all the time. Should government have regulated the number of Cheesecake Factory restaurants in order to help that chain avoid bankruptcy? Should government have limited their ridiculously large menu to protect them from themselves?

          Two casinos will ruin Hampton Roads? Seriously? You can’t possibly believe that. Did a casino ruin the National Harbor in Prince George’s County, MD? Did the Hollywood Casino ruin Charles Town aAce Track in WVa? No, the slots actually saved the racetrack and the employment there.

          Why should people even be able to vote on whether private funding can be used to build a privately owned casino? Should you be able to vote a Burger King or mattress store out of your community too? How about a gun store? Should a person wanting to open a gun store need the community’s approval to do so?

  2. One of my most memorable votes as a southern New Jerseyan (how do you say a “New Jersey person”?) was in favor of Casino Gambling in Atlantic City in 1976.

    At the time, we had just began our adult life in South Jersey, but we had vacationed in AC for some years, saw the Steel Pier with horse dive into the pool, etc. We had seen the decline of Atlantic City, and wanted to help.

    Well we got the Casinos but the city still languished seemingly unabated. So we are less happy about our proud vote.

    Then of course former Dem. Pa. Gov. Eddie Rendell came to power, and he was super-bulllish on Casino Gambling for Pa. as well as fracking. Now we would say he is a mass murderer due to fracking. I hope he has no statues.

    Actually I liked Ed quite a lot, but as a South Jerseyan I was worried the Pa. casinos would compete with AC, so I was glad it took Ed quite a few years to finally get his way on gambling.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Seems like a dumb idea at this split second. MGM National Harbor let go of 800 employees back around Labor Day. Seems like a bad time to build a casino or open a restaurant.

    • COVID-19 makes this a bad time to do a lot of indoors, crowded things. However, people have free will and if some want to spend their capital hoping for a return – who are you (or Kerry or me) to deny them that opportunity?

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Agreed Mr. DJ. I have no problems with weak minded people shooting a big hole in their own wallet. Maybe if I was lucky I would join them. But snake eyes seems to be my destiny in the casino halls.

    • That makes sense except I seem to recall WTOP saying the Md. casinos were still profitable.

  4. To return to one of my favorite topics – follow the money.

    Virginia politicians and the indian tribes rightly see casinos in general as golden geese, both in tax money and campaign contributions for the politicians and in the rights to auction the licenses for the tribes. They are absolutely right.

    For too many politicians, no-limit campaign contributions are all that matters. For the tribes, casinos are considered reparations.

    The human detritus left in the wake of the casinos is of no interest to any of them.

  5. As a native of Gulf Coast Mississippi, I can vouch for the slumming-down effect of legalized gambling. What was once a family friendly beach area, has turned into a hodgepodge of pawnshops, headshops and homeless residents.
    And, any increased revenue has not materialized in lower property taxes or better services or education.
    If you must do it, make sure you put the casinos in the crappiest areas of your jurisdiction.

  6. “I’m not against gambling, I explained. I just don’t want it in my backyard.”

    This is definitely not the statement of a libertarian.

    • Why is it inconsistent for a libertarian to object to something offensive in her backyard? Your freedom as a libertarian ends when your fist reaches the end of my nose.

      • And the “end of your nose” in this case is your property line.

        • Says the guy who told me not to come anywhere near where he lives.

          • I said it would probably be better for you if you did not visit where I live – primarily because you will not like it here. I did not tell you you could not do so.

            I can tell you, if I wish to, that that you are not welcome on my own property. See there, the end of my nose is my property line.

        • How are you to know what I like or don’t like?

          I would stay off your property. Unlike some folks, I respect other’s property.

          • I make no claims to knowing all of your likes and dislikes. However, I do know that you do not like rural Virginia. I know this because you have repeatedly expressed your dislike for rural Virginia on this blog, as well as regularly ridiculing and insulting those who live in rural Virginia. In fact, the comment you mischaracterized above was in response to one of your insults.

            Unlike some folks, my respect for others’ property does not end when somebody wants to make l[legal] use of his property in a manner I don’t personally like.

    • My point exactly.

  7. OK… I’m all for letting poor people gamble… but only if anyone who gambles is banned from getting any Welfare, government freebies including Healthcare for LIFE…..
    no freebies for the stupid that waste their money gambling..

  8. 2020 is too wild, man…I’m agreeing with something Kerry wrote.

  9. Compete disclosure, I enjoy video poker, but do not play often. My fav place is Aruba Marriott…we were there twice. I think the odds in Aruba are funner, $20 will last you for hours. Had a couple good sessions at Lady Luck in Nemacolin Pa.

    NoVA folks have Charlestown WV for casino, and fireworks, also from WV or Pa. Kill 2 birds with one stone.

    The biggest casino-deterrent for me is smelling like cigarette smoke all day. How about mandatory vaping only?

    Well, they always said Virginia would be among the last states to allow it. With Dems in charge, we are now ready willing and able.

    • The Dems need all the money they can tax and borrow to do things they feel are urgent. The “urgent” lists will always exceed the revenue. Count on it.

      None has asked why sinking Norfolk is a good place to build a casino.

      • Norfolk- I was confused myself…guess they need (1) Feds + (2) Off shore wind mandates + (3) Gambling down there, to make it work.

        Bristol I can see as economically disadv. My sister lived there so I have some appreciation.

        • It didn’t seem to get much press coverage but Bristol lost a major employer a couple of years ago…Bristol Compressor went out of business. At one point in the 90s, their compressors were used in just about every builder grade AC unit out there.

      • Who do our feckless politicians pick winners and losers at all? Let whoever wants to put up the capital for the casinos decide where they want them built. Of course, those same politicians somehow found Richmond to be the kind of impoverished area that could benefit from a casino. They need something to do when they are away from home and in session I guess.

      • I’m sure all the Seaman and Privates will expend their paychecks and than some at the tables. So all the Command needs to get their sleep now, they’ll be getting called to account for their sailor’s/soldiers/marines gear they leveraged soon enough.

    • Complete disclosure, I’ll gamble on almost anything although I haven’t placed a bet in the last two years. Just haven’t had the opportunity. Maybe I’ll change that now. I belt UpAgainstTheWall is the same poster who also goes by EricTheHalfTroll.

  10. It’s going up for referendum. If the people there want it, they will vote for it. If they don’t, they won’t.

    As I recall Colonial Downs got a referendum in Manassas Park not once but twice to get an OTB facility there. It failed both times. That was years ago, and they haven’t tried since. I suspect it would probably pass these days.

    • Manassas area is bad enough as it is, they don’t need more pawn shops, loan sharks and the like.

      • Those seem to be the only growth industries Manassas has these days!

        • The only establishment I visited in Manassas when I lived in South Riding was Jay’s Brewing for supplies, as ironically it seemed like the only home brew shop in the area.

          • A few years ago I needed some 1 1/4″ MC connectors for aluminum MC power cable. I called EVERY electrical supply in Manassas and none of them had them or even offered to order them. One guy even said he didn’t know they came that big.

            Ended up ordering them from Graybar in Sterling. IIRC they had them in stock.

            Same thing trying to get 66 punch down block covers and dual-layer DVD-Rs. Not available in Manassas, anywhere. Since I needed the dual-layer DVD-Rs in a hurry I had to go to MicroCenter in Vienna to get them. Just ordered the 66 block covers online.

          • Such a sad state of affairs.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        I miss El Taco. Awesome California Burritos. Is it still there?

  11. For Virginia Democrats, the solution to the VMI problem now should be obvious. Empty VMI of all its student cadets, history and memorials, and then fill its buildings with gamblers and slot machines after adding a new and huge double-decker parking lot. Presto, all of Virginia’s and Lexington’s self induced problems of governance are solved.

    • Colonial Downs certainly claimed that OTB would solve all of Manassas Park’s financial problems.

      • OTB would just go bankrupt. You can bet online in Virginia until the cows come home. Watch the races on cable TV. Who needs an OTB anymore? There aren’t even any left in New York City.

        • As I recall Colonial Downs did file for bankruptcy and close a bunch of the OTB sites.

          It would be interesting to see how much of an economic boost those localities that did approve the referendum for an OTB site got, at least while OTB was still popular.

  12. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Democrats should play the casino game smarter. Legalize betting at Nascar and small track events. Put a few slot machines in the centerfield of the oval track.

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