ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Some voices insist on framing the recent “no” vote on a destination casino in Marion County as being a backward, anti-progress proclamation about our future.
We don’t see it that way.
Set aside the question about the morality of gambling, and a destination casino is still of dubious value for the residents and communities of Marion County. Although a scientific economic-impact study has never been done regarding the close proximity of not one but three destination casinos on Holton and broader Jackson County, our interviews last month with community leaders suggest some economic realities:
- A destination casino does create some relatively high-paying jobs for area residents, but employment is not necessarily long-term because workers grow tired of the scheduling pressures of 24/7 business hours.
- Destination casino do attract droves of people to a county-but not to live. Census records show the impact on the local population is negligible.
- A destination casino draws thousands of potential customers for local stores and businesses-but very few stop to buy anything beyond gasoline for the drive home. The impact on the local business community is minimal.
- Gambling addictions are not widespread among the local residential population, but they do occur and they come at a cost-not just to the addicted person’s household but to legitimate businesses to whom he or she owes money.
- Destination casinos do generate mountainous revenue-but almost exclusively for the folks who own them. By state statute, casino revenue is untaxable, so local governmental entities benefit only from trickle-down tax revenue generated by the relatively few patrons who make purchases at traditional stores and businesses. In Jackson County, the actually casino is costing taxpayers money because of additional highway projects and law enforcement needed to accommodate the dramatic increase in vehicle traffic.
These are the voices of experience, not of casino promoters or guardians of morality. It’s true, the majority of our interviewees would cast a “yes” vote regarding a casino, but no one saw it as an economic boon.
The casino issue is now dead in Marion County. Maybe it was never a live option. But we have not lost much with its passing. What’s important now is having more conversation about ways to pursue economic development here that are grounded in honest gain for honest work. This is who we are. And it is profoundly progressive.