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Casino: Yes or No? Are you kidding me?


I cannot imagine a more obvious choice being on the ballot in the form of a referendum.

         Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a measure allowing three economically-disadvantaged localities to vote on the possibility of allowing a casino to open in their borders.  Unfortunately, this is a list that Danville is all-too-accustomed to occupying.

            The question is simple.  Do the voters of Danville approve or disapprove of a proposal by Caesar’s Entertainment to build a casino and resort center at the site of the former Dan River Factory in Schoolfield?  The company plans to invest 400 million dollars and create 1,300 new jobs.  That does not include an estimated 850 construction jobs.  Ceasar’s will give Danville 25 million dollars up front if the vote passes.  Once running at full capacity, Caesar’s estimates annual municipal tax payments to the city of 38 million dollars.  That would account for more than a fourth of the current budget.

            Michael Jordan has never had an easier layup than this.  Tiger Woods has never had a simpler tap-in.  The numbers fall under the old, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” cautionary tale.  But the numbers are legit.

            The biggest number to consider is zero.  That is the amount of direct monetary municipal support that Danville is promising Caesar’s.  If we were putting up eight million, like we did with the Coleman Marketplace; then we could have a robust debate about whether the investment is worth it—short term AND long term.  But we’re not.  So the only debate we’re left with is what shirt do we want to wear on Tuesday to go to the polls and vote “yes.”  Of course many of you have already voted this year.  I’m not crazy about that, but that’s a blog post for another day.

            But in a city that has turned negative self-image into a lifestyle, the naysayers emerged.  Despite overwhelming mathematical and other evidence, they dialed their sour setting to “11” and surged onward.  20th District State Senator Bill Stanley, who has disappointed me more times than I care to remember, cautioned our region against putting all hopes for our economic recovery on a casino. So much for being with the party of Jobs and Economic Development.

            There is nothing in this that suggests we are pushing all of our chips in on this venture.  (WHOA, he’s clever!).  Supporting the casino doesn’t come at the expense of all other economic development efforts. We will continue to recruit (and attract) high-end manufacturing jobs to Danville in order to take advantage of the superb training infrastructure that’s been developed at Danville Community College.

            There are, of course, the moral objections over a casino.  There is no way that can be debated.  We can debate facts, but not feelings.  If you feel a casino is evil, there is nothing I will do or say to change your mind.  Let’s move on.

            One of my favorite faux-concerns is that the presence of a casino will increase the number of problem gamblers in Danville.  If you believe this, then your logic will force you to also conclude that recruiting a Ruth’s Chris Steak House to Danville will increase local obesity rates.  Or that a new microbrewery will send alcoholism through the roof.  I am terribly sorry.  A study that shows a 20% increase in problem gambling in Bugtussle-Arkansas after a casino opened does NOT translate into an inevitable increase in Danville.  It simply does not, no matter how many times you cut-and-paste it.

            Gentrification might be the funniest argument of them all.  Seriously.  Think about it. Espousing that concern means you could NEVER support something that increases the local tax base, because SOMEONE’S property values might go up.  I hope you can see how deliciously moronic this would be. 

            A slightly more legitimate concern is the thought that the casino will bring a crime wave to Danville not seen since the last Martin Scorcese feature film.  Casinos have legendary security procedures, so the concern must be that crime in the community will go up with all these folks walking around with cash—or with the problem gamblers knocking off convenience stores to get 50 bucks to blow playing Keno. 

Well, we already have a fair amount of that, thank you very much, with nothing more than the state lottery and those shady machines you see at the local Quick Mart.  Do you know what the number one predictor of crime is?  It is poverty.  There are VERY few examples of a locality lowering their poverty rates while concurrently suffering from an increase in crime. 

Also consider that the casino is only a portion of this proposal.  It also includes a large hotel, resort facilities, and a civic center.  I am 52 years old.  The desire for an honest-to-God Civic Center in Danville goes back many decades.  Most of the previous proposals had the city government building it.  You can see what that might be a problem for Joe and Jane Taxpayer. Well, here we have that coveted civic center—coming in tax free.  That is a good deal.  No, it is a GREAT deal.

            Another popular argument is that Caesar’s will NOT invest 400 million dollars and will NOT employ 1,300 people.  Well that is pure, groundless speculation—the kind that is essential for opposing something this obvious.  But for the sake of argument, let’s grant this.  Let’s say the casino only spends 300 million dollars and only hires a thousand workers.   Explain to me why this would be a BAD thing.  Then I want you to tell me what other economic venture in the last 50 years has delivered similar numbers. You won’t need more than one hand to count them.

            Math is math.  Before the first shovelful of dirt is even turned on a casino, the city will get 25 million dollars from Caesar’s.  Guaranteed.  If Caesar’s wins the referendum on November 3rd, then changes their minds on November 4th, we STILL get 25 million dollars.

            So that is your initial baseline.  You have to convince me that a casino will do 25 million dollars of economic and social damage in order to outweigh the good.  Go ahead.  Give it a shot.  Can’t do it?  No surprise.  Now imagine having to make that same justification based on annual estimated municipal taxes of 38 million dollars.  Every single year.  (“But they’ll never bring that kind of money in!!”)  OK then.  Same challenge applies if they average only 25 million tax dollars a year.  You STILL cannot do it.

Another argument stepped heavily in weak sauce and desperation is that Caesars’ plans to market outside the area are doomed—that the vast majority of players will come from the Danville area—and thus we will be the ones with all of the inevitable gambling zombies roaming the landscape.  Be honest.  What economic sense would it make for Caesar’s to build a casino here, if they thought 90% of the players would be locals?  That would not even BEGIN to justify the size they are considering.

            There is one more thing to consider.  Right now we have a massive eyesore on West Main Street.  The remnants of the once-mighty Dan River Mills is an excellent visual demonstration to the economic changes we’ve endured in the city, but I see no compelling reason to have to keep looking at it.  Now then, what exactly could that site be used for?  Whatever your answer(s) may be, ask yourself—why hasn’t that already happened?

            The ironic part of all this is that I will likely be the LAST person that darkens the door of this casino.  The allure of gambling is completely lost on me.  I’m also good at math.  I already have many other things I spend money on that bring me joy.  But I can NOT deny these numbers.

            If you had a chance to vote on another Goodyear plant, would you approve it?  Of course you would.  And unlike with other major economic ventures, this casino brings with it NO environmental concerns and no need for decades-long Environmental Impact Statement from the Army Corps of Engineers.

            It is rare that We The People get such a direct say in a venture that could have such an impact on their area.  Usually such calls are left entirely in the hands of lawyers, politicians, bankers and others in the elite.  Well folks, this is our chance.  We can behave like Danville leaders did sixty years ago and bow to worries about “what if” and oppose a Danville path for Route 85… OR … we could take this bold step and give us a platform from which we bring even BETTER things to our city.

            Tell the Negative Nannies we’ve heard enough.  Vote YES on the casino referendum Tuesday November third.

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