Most of the residents of Amsterdam and surrounding towns are agape and agog at the possibility a casino might be sited here.
There hasn’t been so much excitement since the 1970s, when the Amsterdam Mall was touted as the economic engine that was going to transform the city from a post-industrial grunge town to a shining city on a hill.
We built it — the mall — and they came, at first. There were some short-lived economic benefits, just as there will be with a casino. However, after hours of reading and research, I am convinced that in the long-run, a casino will transform Amsterdam about the same way the mall did.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo — whose only evidence for the economic benefits of casino gambling was an assertion borrowed from the gambling industry that it would produce $1 billion in revenue — and our political leaders have abdicated their responsibility to research and present to the public empirical evidence that casino gambling has a long-term, not just a short-term, positive effect on a community. Instead, with only a few exceptions, they have been shills for the casino industry.
A casino is coming to the area — although maybe not to Amsterdam. Let’s at least go into this venture with open and unglazed eyes.
Consider the following:
The casino will be a regional one, not a destination casino like the ones in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. It will depend primarily on locals and will likely increase tourism only slightly, if at all.
After 40 years, casinos have not solved Atlantic City’s economic problems. Casinos often drive away legitimate businesses. Before 1977, there were 242 eateries in Atlantic City. Three years after casinos began operating, there were only 160. In 1996, after 19 years of casino operation, there were only 142.
The Amsterdam casino site will have two golf courses, even though there are already two golf courses nearby that can hardly support themselves, and a 200-bed hotel, when downtown Amsterdam’s current hotel is waiting for a government grant in order for operators to rehab it.
Casinos have not solved Mississippi’s problems, even though it has 30 casinos. For example, the poverty rate has increased by nearly 4 points since 1990 when casinos were introduced. Economic development in Mississippi due to casinos has largely resulted in an increase in pawn shops, paycheck cashing stores and similar high-interest-loan establishments.
Casinos have historically been illegal because they are dishonest. The house never gambles. The house never loses. At one time, casinos were for the rich, who could afford to lose. Now they are primarily frequented by the middle-, working- and welfare classes, who cannot afford to lose.
People who go to a casino have all their needs and wants met by the casino. They do not usually leave to spend money at other nearby businesses. Casinos will not revitalize our downtowns.
Dependence on gambling as a state revenue source is evidence of our failure to attract industry and a sign of our desperation. Casinos represent the opposite of what made New York the Empire State and an economic powerhouse — thrift, work ethic, deferred gratification, productivity, creativity, consumer protection and calculated risk-taking (being an entrepreneur).
The income from modern casinos primarily comes from addictive slot machines. About 40 percent to 60 percent of a casino’s income comes from problem gamblers.
We give grants and tax breaks to entice industries here, and few come. We charge casinos $50 million and 45 percent of their take to build here, and they are tripping over themselves to come here.
There is evidence to suggest that crime and use of social services go up, while property values decline in communities with casinos.
The number of gambling venues is reaching a saturation point and competition for gamblers is growing in intensity.
These are some of the things that local politicians are not telling us. But don’t take my word for it. Research it yourself. You will not only find what I have told you, but much more.
Primarily, you will find that the only way to win in a casino is to own one.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.