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Why I Said No to Ohio Issue 3

It really has little to do with gambling per se, jobs, construction, tax revenue or even the equality concern I raised a few weeks ago. In fact, the primary reason I voted no is really quite selfish, in a way. If I am going to live in Cleveland after I graduate from college (and this is becoming a big if anymore), basically the only place in town I would have any desire of living is downtown. Do I think living blocks away from a full-service casino would be desirable? No. I do not.

(from flickr user John Wardell (Netinho))

Cleveland already has plenty of challenges facing its downtown. I was recently reminded of this while talking to a friend of the blog about my frustration with the fact that the public library in my current neighborhood closes at 9pm and my favorite coffee shop at 10pm. That's pretty generous, really, he reminded me, since where he lives downtown, so many places that don't have a bar attached close while the sun still shines.

I've been to my share of casinos. I've visited Las Vegas, gambled on Indian reservations in Oklahoma and observed all three casinos in Detroit.

My fear is that Cleveland's casino will turn into something out of Detroit, where people drive in their cars, park in huge garages, spend time and money in the casinos, and then drive right back out and right back home. Official statistics might show people "visiting" these casino neighborhoods, but it only requires a little observation to see that the neighborhoods surrounding the casinos aren't exactly major beneficiaries of this influx of visitors.

I'm partial to the Hiram College study which concludes that a downtown casino will siphon business from neighboring bars and restaurants and drive many out of business entirely. Frankly, if I'm going to be a downtown resident, I'm pretty sure one of the last places I'd want to spend a Friday or Saturday night is at some casino bar. The fact that many of downtown Cleveland's existing business owners oppose the casino is enough to convince me that the risk is real enough.

There are so many things Cleveland could do to improve its downtown. To suggest that the casino is the only option left seems to be an admission of defeat. And it's hard to gloss over the reality of what casinos are in Detroit. Proponents kept telling me that somehow the Cleveland casino would be different, that somehow Cleveland will do right everything that Detroit did wrong...

I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt. I just don't have the faith to believe them.


Kent said…
I said "no" also. I simply couldn't think of a model vibrant city that had a to rely on a casino -- it seems to be the commercial and municipal equivalent of throwing your hands up in the air. Cleveland has its share of problems attracting businesses, yes, but I don't think that populating downtown Cleveland (not even, the casino would be across the river, no?) with drunks and senior citizens would do much to enhance its night life culture.
Rob Pitingolo said…
Kent, I had an econ professor who showed me some pretty convincing evidence that the only way casino gambling could be beneficial to a city is if more than 75% of the visitors came from out of town (I can't remember exactly how 'out of town' was defined). Nevertheless, there is only one big city in this country that fits that model. As for the rest... it seems hard to argue they've really experienced true gains.

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