If there’s anything that’s controversial about the casino question, it’s this: will the casinos bring the jobs and economic development they promise, or won’t they?
I would suggest that the evidence is against the pro-casino position. After all, can anyone point to a single instance, anywhere in the United States, where bringing a casino into a downtrodden urban area has turned things around? Yet that’s what the pro-Springfield casino folks say is going to happen. Somehow, Springfield is going to be different from every other time this strategy has been tried. I mean, Detroit has a bunch of casinos, but I don’t recall seeing any glorious turnaround stories coming out of the Motor City lately. To the contrary, three recently-opened casinos in the city didn’t prevent the city from filing for bankruptcy last year.
All of which brings us to today’s astounding Globe column by Thomas Farragher. He’s in favor of letting MGM build a casino in Springfield because … well, because MGM says it’s going to make things better, and by golly, the people of Springfield people believe them.
[W]hat really animates [Rico] Daniele — who, believe me, is easily animated — is the enormous economic life raft that will either be launched or scuttled next month just around the corner from the Italian market he has operated for 38 years in Springfield’s South End.
“It seems like we’re always broke,” Daniele said over lunch at his market Monday. “It’ll be a big spark for the city. There’ll finally be some vibrancy to Springfield. And if people don’t want to come, don’t come.”
Daniele, of course, is talking about the only thing anyone in Springfield is talking about: the $800 million casino project planned by MGM Resorts International for a city where the jobless rate remains stalled stubbornly in double digits, a tornado’s scars are still raw, and the stain of municipal corruption is not yet a distant memory.
I don’t know Mr. Daniele. I’m sure he is a very nice man, and it’s impossible not to feel for him as he watches his city struggle. But, at least judging from Farragher’s column, Mr. Daniele doesn’t have much in the way of qualifications to judge whether MGM’s projections for Springfield are realistic, or whether a casino project represents a genuine turnaround opportunity. Plus, gosh, what better cure for “the stain of municipal corruption” than bringing a casino to town?
For a contrary viewpoint, one might consider the words of a guy who should know.
No one should look to casinos to revive cities, “because that’s not what casinos do.” So explained the project manager for a new Wynn casino rising near Philadelphia.
Give the guy credit for being succinct. The same article offers this hard-to-argue-with point:
Casinos don’t encourage non-gaming businesses to open nearby, because the people who most often visit casinos do not wander out to visit other shops and businesses. A casino is not like a movie theater or a sports stadium, offering a time-limited amusement. It is designed to be an all-absorbing environment that does not release its customers until they have exhausted their money.
But Springfield is going to be different, because … well, listen to this, from Farragher’s conversation with Mr. Daniele.
“MGM is coming to this thing from the heart,” he told me. “They’ll do what they promise they’re going to do. If not, my 89-year-old mother and I will chase them with a broom.”
Let’s get one thing clear: “the heart” has nothing to do with why MGM is coming to Springfield. MGM is not a charity, for God’s sake. It is a money-making enterprise, and it is coming to Springfield because it thinks it will make more money than it spends. And forgive me if I don’t think that MGM is exactly quaking in its boots at the threat of Mr. Daniele and his mother running after them with cleaning implements.
What’s most depressing about this whole thing is that Farragher used to be an investigative journalist. ”He spent eight years as editor of the Spotlight Team,” says his bio. Yet there’s no indication – none – that Farragher has done the slightest bit of investigation into whether MGM’s claims are remotely plausible. Nor, apparently, has he looked at other casino developments in cities that resemble Springfield to see if they have rejuvenated those cities. Wouldn’t that be useful to know? I guess when you get handed the title of “columnist,” you no longer have to do any, you know, reporting. You just have to write down a conversation with a nice man in Springfield, parrot the casino industry’s claims, and leave it at that. WTF.
Instead, Farragher’s “analysis” boils down to this: Massachusetts already has the lottery, and Springfield voted yes, so that should be the end of it.
[A]m I going to tell Springfield that it cannot benefit from gambling lucre in a state that profits handsomely from scratch tickets and incessant Keno games? No, I’m not.
Obviously, this begs the question whether Springfield will in fact “benefit” from plopping a casino into its struggling downtown. But Farragher doesn’t bother to investigate whether or not that might actually happen.
Farragher does go out of his way to assure us that he sure isn’t one of those rubes who’s going to be sucked into MGM’s profit-making machine.
I will never visit these casinos unless I’m on the clock for the Globe. When I drove cross-country to take a job in 1988, my traveling companion, who likes the ponies, suggested a side trip to Reno, where I went through 50 bucks in the time it took to ask, “Where’s the free beer?”
That’s right. Casinos are for suckers, as Farragher learned decades ago, and he’s no sucker, he wants you to know. But he must think that there are a whole lot of other suckers out there who will flock to MGM’s Springfield palace and somehow turn the struggling city around.
If only there were some evidence that anything like that might actually happen.