Monday, April 21, 2008

Odds are against a Casino helping Cincinnati

The casino sturm und drang looms on the horizon for Ohio voters this fall. The website uses slick advertising and scare tactics to seduce Ohio voters into approving the initiative: "Our tax dollars are leaving this state!" "Ohio is the only state in the great lakes region not to have a casino....can Ohio afford to stand alone?" "It's time to join the 21st century!"

Somewhere in this mix, city council is sure to jump on the bandwagon, saying that now more than ever we need to OK slot machines for someplace in downtown Cincinnati. When Kentucky legislators were debating allowing a casino in Northern Kentucky, Jeff Berding of the City Council was at the front of the Chicken Little parade, shouting "the sky is falling, the sky is falling." From a March 10, 2008 City Beat article:

The approval of casinos in Northern Kentucky is a direct economic threat to the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County," Berding says. "The city of Cincinnati stands to lose millions of dollars in future economic development as a result of a casino across the river."

It's already a common site to see dozens of Hamilton County license plates in the parking lots of casinos in southeast Indiana on any given day, and places like Aurora, Lawrenceburg and Vevay have yielded a tremendous financial windfall as a result. Each year, Ohioans also take about $2 billion in revenue outside the state to gamble in locales across the United States, studies indicate. Berding believes the local drain would worsen if Kentucky joins the casino club.

"(We don't) propose to add casino gaming to all parts of the state, only those areas threatened economically by new neighboring casinos," he says. "Ohio currently loses $160 million in convention business that goes elsewhere in the region primarily due to nearby out-of-state casinos."

Berding's proposal has the support of a city council majority. His fellow Democrats Laketa Cole and John Cranley have endorsed the concept, as have Charterites Chris Bortz and Roxanne Qualls and Republican Leslie Ghiz. Council's Economic Dvelopment Committee will discuss the motion Tuesday, and it probably will be forwarded to state lawmakers by month's end.

Given this level of rhetoric, the Ohio Casino initiative is but another goad to the hysteria.

Freely, I admit that Ohio citizens fritter their dollars away in out of state casinos all the time. That still doesn't make it a good idea to have a casino. Indeed, the more places that have casinos, the less valuable it will be to have one. The market is allready well saturated, and it's unlikely that our city or our state will stand to benefit greatly.

These addle-headed proposals miss basic concepts driving a capitalistic economy ... division of labor, specialization, competition. Right now there is immense competition in the casino/gambling industry .... and our state/city would be entering into it like a rube in a 1950's musical wanting to make it big on Broadway. Quite simply, it would take a miracle for Ohio in general and Cincinnati in particular to effectively compete in a saturated market. It's not impossible, but .... well, let's say that the odds are against it.

Instead, we ought to focus on what already brings people here! Rather than wasting its time wringing collective hands about casinos, city council should look at how to promote our city's distinctiveness: rich arts, strong local culture, great cuisine, abundant green space, world class sports (well, major leage sports, anyway). City Council should look at how UC is driving technological innovation and health care in our region. City Council should explore how to leverage the existing business base in Cincinnati.

Who really cares Ohio license tags are at Casinos in Indiana? How many Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Michigan, Illinois, etc license tags are at our sports events, kings Island, arts events, street festivals and the like? How can we use the abundant strengths we already have to draw more people here?

Casinos would function as a cancer, sucking precious resources away from these other economic generators. Please, City Council, don't jump on the bandwagon. Use your collective brains to build on our strengths, rather than spreading this city's resources thin.

See also: A Casino for Broadway Commons: Bad Idea