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Societal costs are real, substantial

 By Leonard Hadley
Guest columnist
Sunday, November 02, 2003, 12:16:15 PM

Cedar Rapids has a wonderful family environment with several new entertainment venues and school improvements in recent years. Support for those issues sends a strong message -- this is the way Linn County residents want to live.

Before us is an unknown casino proposal by unknown owners at an unknown location at some future date if the state commission grants a license. Tuesday's referendum is the only chance voters have to control this issue. Approval places all future decision-making in the hands of political and/or economic vested interests. Approval could change the character of this community, something not to be treated casually.

Advocates commonly cite tourism, jobs, new tax revenues and retaining the money of residents who currently gamble elsewhere as reasons to vote in favor of the referendum. While various academic (objective) studies show this equation does not work, advocates incessantly tout studies that show having a casino "pays." I have yet to see a "pro" analysis not generated by vested interests. It only "pays" casino investors and operators.

Tourism surveys, including parking-lot counts at Prairie Meadows casino in Altoona, regularly show at least 95 percent of casino traffic is from within the local and adjoining counties. Surrounded as we already are by gambling opportunities, we will not have meaningful overnight tourist traffic, only the financial drain of playing with our own money.

As for jobs: The economic development argument is fallacious. The low wages paid to casino workers are just reallocation of the existing labor market. The construction jobs end in 18 months.

Linn County will "lose" $70 million per year, every year, money that is already here.

Dollars gambled are direct competition to all forms of retail trade, hurting existing businesses and eroding the existing tax base. Local chamber efforts to recruit business to the area are targeted at jobs that pay much better than "boat jobs."

No sales tax is collected and no property tax is paid with a riverboat casino. The state taxes casino revenues at 20 percent and keeps more than 90 percent of the tax revenue. This is a regressive $19 million tax increase to the region. Our money will leave town and go to the casino investors and to state government.

Lacking factual support, advocates for a casino frequently gloss over social costs as emotional scare tactics. But social costs are real and substantial. To support the proponents' proposal, more than 3,000 Linn County households must "lose" more than $11,000 each a year, every year. Gambling is addictive, up to 5 percent to 10 percent of players.

Hard statistics with clear "before and after" experience show local increases in dysfunctional families and financial stress, often known only to the professionals who counsel them.

If you examine the "siren song" of advocates who stir up excitement for a casino, you will not wish this community to hand over a blank check to a bad idea.

Leonard Hadley is the former chairman of Maytag Corp. and a member of the anti-casino group No Dice.

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