Featured Stories

Casino stalls – perhaps for good

by: ,

Thankfully, the probability of a Las Vegas-style casino being built in Portland by a pair of Lake Oswego businessmen grows smaller by the day.

Promoters of the casino development - proposed to be built along Interstate 84 in east Multnomah County - have yet to begin collecting signatures they need to place statewide initiatives on the November ballot to allow a single privately owned casino in Oregon. And as the July 3 deadline for obtaining 110,358 valid signatures draws closer, the likelihood of success for a belated signature-gathering campaign is rapidly dwindling.

We aren't disappointed.

Considering the damage that a mega-urban style casino would inflict on the social fabric of the region, we are happy to see that the proposal stalled for weeks. The public - in Oregon and throughout the United States - is becoming increasingly aware that casinos are not the economic engines they are purported to be. In fact, reliable research on the subject shows that casinos cause more economic damage than good.

Economics Professor Earl Grinols, formerly of the University of Illinois, has conducted independent research with no funding from either gambling or anti-gambling sources. Grinols has studied the economic effects of casinos since 1990, and he has concluded that the negative economic impact of casinos outstrips the benefits by a ratio of three to one.

These economic costs, according to Grinols' research, include increases in crimes such as assault, rape, robbery, larceny, burglary, auto theft, embezzlement and fraud. Casinos also bring higher rates of bankruptcy, suicide, illness, divorce and child abuse, and they raise the cost for public services such as unemployment insurance and addiction treatment.

We think that it is time that Oregonians take note of such consequences. Unfortunately, this is a state that has relied on a state-run lottery to fund too many things and has seen a steady increase in the number of tribal-run casinos.

Given the plethora of ills that accompany casinos, it's a puzzle why any community would actively seek such a form of development. The rationale usually is job creation, but even on that score, Grinols and other serious researchers have found that casinos can hurt, not help, a community's employment base.

If a casino opens in town, it diverts dollars away from existing businesses. This is especially true of casinos that operate in urban areas - because the vast majority of customers come from a 35-mile radius. They don't stay the night and they don't shop at other businesses in town. They go to the casino, lose their money and then head home a bit - or a lot - poorer.

Voters in other states are figuring out that casinos are an empty economic promise. An article in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday cited Grinols' research and his conclusion that for backers of a Portland-area casino to win a referendum election, they must outspend opponents by 75 to 1. Any attempt to amend the Oregon Constitution and permit private casinos to be built will face well-funded opposition from Native American tribes and the restaurant industry.

It's time for Oregonians to become aware of the costs of casinos and understand that there are better, more sustainable regional and statewide economic strategies than betting that good things will come from taking someone else's money.