Opinion: Are Casinos “City Ruiners”?

The last time a gambling bill came before the General Assembly, Mayor Rahm Emanuel insisted he wanted to bring casino gambling to Chicago “for our kids.”

“As I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, if we were to get a casino, I’d like to direct all the resources to school modernization and school improvement so our kids will be in modern school buildings with a full school day and full school year,” Emanuel said last August.
Over the last two years, one thing we’ve learned about Mayor Emanuel is that the interests of public school children are never his first priority.
With that in mind, it’s worth reading this analysis of urban casinos from urbanist/futurist Richard Florida, who is fighting a casino in his hometown of Toronto, a city very similar to Chicago in its size, ethnic diversity, and ambitions to world-class status.
A casino, Florida argues, won’t help Chicago get there. And indeed, when casino gambling was approved in the 1990s, it was intended to aid decaying river towns, some of which had been struggling since the end of the steamboat era. Casinos went to Rock Island, East Dubuque, East St. Louis, Metropolis, Elgin, Aurora and Joliet. Chicago was thriving in the ’90s, often at the expense of those small towns, who were losing jobs and college graduates to the big city.
Toronto’s business leaders like to think that they are helping to build a great global city, but casino building is city-ruining of the highest order. Virtually every serious study that has ever been done of the economic impacts of casinos shows that their costs far exceed their benefits and that they are a poor use of precious downtown land. A downtown casino will tear holes in Toronto’s urban fabric, create more costs than benefits, and as surely as if it’s holding up a giant sign, will send the message that Toronto is on the wrong track.  
In the U.S. alone, gambling generates roughly $90-billion in annual revenues, a figure that is projected to expand to $115-billion by 2015. Faced with the prospect of laying off teachers, firemen, and policemen, it looks like manna to cash-starved cities and metros. But if there’s one truth we know about casinos, it’s that the house always wins. Casinos generate mega-profits for their developer-owners, who don’t have to deal with the myriads of problems they cause for the cities in which they are located.
A casino is a sign of a desperate city with no other revenue prospects, not a thriving metropolis. Beyond that, it redistributes money from poor citizens to casino owners, while relieving wealthy citizens of their tax burden. (That’s also part of Emanuel’s game plan -- one reason why Chicagoans earning over $100,000 a year are the only demographic to give him more than a 50 percent approval rating.)
Gamblers might fool themselves into thinking that they can get something for nothing, but cities and governments should know better. For all the ostensible billions in tax revenue, spillovers from increased tourism, and higher property values casinos supposedly generate, when all the social, moral, and monetary costs that they levy on cities are added up, they have almost always proven themselves to be financial and economic disasters.
When all is said and done, gambling is one of the most regressive ways to generate public revenue and one of the least productive uses of money imaginable — it takes the most from the people who can afford it the least.
Poor children will be benefiting from the money generated by a casino -- 87 percent of Chicago Public School students are low income -- so maybe its fair that their parents provide it.
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