I feel like I keep making the same argument over and over. No, a casino won’t save your town. No, casinos don’t do much for local businesses. Yes, the casino companies are promising things they can’t possibly deliver. And yet people keep falling for it.
The latest victim of casino stupidity is Bridgeport. MGM has entered into an agreement to build a casino at Steelpointe Harbor, a gritty triangle of land bounded by the industrial dystopia of the harbor and I-95. Steelpointe Harbor, once known as just Steel Point, has been the focus of urban redevelopment schemes for some time, but the only tangible results have been a Bass Pro Shops, a Starbucks, and a Chipotle.
MGM wants to kickstart things by plopping its hotel/casino complex down at an abandoned industrial site adjacent to this development. They are promising a beautiful blue hotel tower, loads of slots, shopping, a theater, acts to play at the nearby arena, and up to 2,000 permanent jobs.
All Connecticut has to do is change a pesky 1990s-era law restricting gambling licenses to the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes.
Gosh, that sounds great! And you say they’re going to pay for it all themselves, without any government subsidies, and they’re going to give out free money to surrounding communities, too? Wow! What a deal!
Except, of course, that it’s all an illusion. P.T. Barnum, Bridgeport’s favorite son, was a specialist in hoodwinking people. He’d love these casino guys, with their glitz, glamour, and sky-high promises. He’d also have the sense to know that it’s a sham.
Casinos … well, they’re not so great for cities. If you need an example, look no further than Atlantic City. Casinos are meant to be self-contained: rubes go in, leave all their money at the slots, the casino shops, the casino restaurants, and the casino hotel, and go home again. There is no real impact on local businesses. There is an impact, however, on gambling addiction.
The only people casinos actually benefit are casino executives, who are all hell bent on squeezing whatever profit remains out of an already saturated market. MGM and Foxwoods/Mohegan Sun are locked in a death match for New England and New York’s cash, and they have no problem using desperate cities and towns as pawns. MGM’s going to build a casino in Springfield? Fine, the tribes will build a smaller casino just down the road in East Windsor! The tribes have an exclusive gambling contract with the state? Well, here comes MGM with a can’t-miss deal for sad sack Bridgeport! And so on, and so on.
Anyone promising easy solutions and free money is a liar. But if you still doubt that casinos are a cancer, ask yourself this: if they’re really so good for the economy, why are they paying us to come here?
And yet city and state governments fall for the fake promises of economic revival, over and over again. Why?
Because people get desperate, and when they get desperate, all their sense goes away. It’s like this: if you’re lost in the desert with nothing to drink, and you spy something shimmering off in the distance. If you were in your right mind, you’d be pretty sure it’s a mirage. But because you’re desperate, you go toward it, hoping against hope that it’s water.
That’s how casinos make their money in the first place.
There’s a lot of desperation going on in this country right now. That awful feeling of having your back up against the wall will absolutely warp your perception. That’s what made so many people fall for the easy lies of a grifter like Donald Trump, for instance. They were tired of being ignored and lied to, they were desperate, and so they mistook an oaf with bad hair for a savior.
It’s also what led so many Democrats in Hartford to embrace a Republican budget that would, frankly, be just as much of a disaster as the one Democratic leaders were pushing. They got desperate. They were tired of being ignored and lied to, as well. So they mistook a half-formed, unbalanced budget for a real alternative.
We all do dumb things when we’re desperate. But too many times, all that chasing the mirage gets you is a mouthful of sand. Bridgeport: beware.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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