My hometown has been on the losing side of every major demographic trend over the last 70 years: north to south; east to west; city to suburb. Even trends like the general shift of the economy from manufacturing to service based employment, and greater corporate centralization have been more damaging to Springfield than to other cities.
It frustrates me a little that city residents seem so blind to that fact and point to personalities and local policies for the city’s general downturn. Get into a conversation with a real local and you’ll sense the “blame Springfield first” mentality. Now there are a dozen or more enormous policy errors which, in retrospect, anyone could easily point to and say “mistake”; but the truth is that unless municipal leaders had navigated their way perfectly through the asteroid belt that was the last 70 years the city would likely still be struggling.
The fractal decline continues. That is, of course, the reason for this blog, this website, and its nascent podcast. The healthy have no need of a physician and my desire to address the issues around city living stems from the fact that it should be apparent to anyone that many of our nation’s cities are quickly becoming home only to people who can do no better, or who have simply given up.
This blog is all about living in cities in decline, finding the good in sometimes difficult circumstances and finding ways to reverse the decline. With that we arrive at the core of today’s essay: Casino gambling. The easy thing to do here is to go into the voluminous evidence that casinos, at this their saturation stage of ubiquity, are but leeches, blood suckers, and vampires; vultures who will devour whatever last shred of local well-being that exists. There, that’s done.
Oh, but wait. A casino is coming to the greater Springfield metro area. Only a cataclysmic economic collapse of biblical or “hooverian” proportion will stop it! The Massachusetts state legislature has not only approved casino gambling in the state, but has named the four western counties of the state as one of the three targeted zones where a casino can be built. Nearly all of the “interest” in moving forward, both on the part of the gambling “industry” and on the part of communities actively wooing them, is centered on Springfield.
Understand, I find this action of the legislature cowardly. The brave thing to do is to face the citizens of the Commonwealth and explain that revenues must increase, and commitments diminish if the state is to be run sustainably, but that sort of political courage is in short supply. That battle is over. The cowards have won, and the casinos are coming.
I’m not interested in a quixotic battle to keep a casino out of the city when any rational look at the process indicates that the casino will end up being either in the city or, at most, eleven miles away in Palmer. (The Palmer option then is really the only practical option for the anti-casino crowd in the city to hang their collective hat upon.)
The question then becomes, given that a casino IS coming to the city, where best to locate it AND how best to see it configured in order to take from it the maximum gain, and sacrifice to it the minimum loss.
In the Sunday Republican newspaper one anti-casino crusader wrote an impassioned letter to the editor mentioning all of the evidence, and citing actual studies which show, well, see the paragraph on blood suckers, leeches, and vultures. Not only was it all quite rational and correct, but I could tell that its author was a man after my own heart. He stated what he sees as the city’s positive attributes, and what damage a casino will likely do to locally owned enterprises like bars and restaurants, to cultural institutions, and to “our neighborhoods”. I agreed with nearly all of it, with one enormous caveat: It’s all moot given that a casino is coming, unless one can imagine every single community along the I-90 and I-91 corridors rejecting a casino at the ballot box, and that’s not happening.
The casino is coming.
The most sanguine proponents of casinos will assert that the money to be siphoned by the new casino will just be the same money which now goes “south of the border” to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. The full argument being that the tax dollars skimmed from those funds are paying for roads and schools in Connecticut, why not keep those dollars here? While it certainly is impossible for me to know for sure, I have a feeling that MGM, Hard Rock, Ameristar, and other “gaming” high flyers wouldn’t be throwing millions at projects here unless they thought they could do a bit more than just skim off the small percentage of revenues that this region contributes to the bottom line in Uncasville and Ledyard.
One particular sentence in the anti-casino letter made me laugh out loud. You see, my home is just a few yards from one of the sites up for consideration for a casino. While it won’t literally be in my backyard, it would be just one block away. The letter writer contended that the arrival of a casino would bring moral decline, and with it, prostitution! Really? I’ll ask the three or four prostitutes who walk by my front door ten to twenty times a day if they are more worried about “moral decline”, or if they’re excited about the potential for an increase in business! Crime too will follow the casino I read. Really, I think this time it may have preceded it!
Anybody remember Super Bowl XXXIX? Trust me, it’s relevant. I’ll always appreciate the decision of the Philadelphia Eagles offense to play a nice, safe slowdown game at the end of Super Bowl XXXIX. It guaranteed a Patriot victory! I must admit that playing it safe is generally a good strategy, but when you’re losing badly it just doesn’t seem like a winning strategy.
The ancient Stoics recommended contemplating worst-case scenarios when assessing decisions. As much as I love my neighborhood, I see very little of what I care for most that a casino will put at risk, and I see much that simply cannot get much worse.
The historic buildings which weren’t destroyed by last year’s tornado are protected by the Historical Commission. The tiny Italian specialty retailers, which must be holding on by their fingernails, aren’t going to lose their small cult-like local following because of a casino. There is no movie theater to lose, no retail beyond a distant drug store, three or four clothing stores aimed at a demographic which I do not represent, and a few cell phone outlets. The two stately vacant homes across the street will decay no more quickly if a casino moves in down the street.
The die is cast as far as the negative consequences go for casinos in this region, but if the downtown of the region’s largest city can negotiate a format and a layout for the casino, albeit against the will of the casino developer, which uses the “gaming resort” to create the critical mass necessary for the tremendous assets of the city center to become again the center for entertainment in the region, don’t we dare try it? The safe play and the safe calls have done nothing but ensure that our collective decline is as orderly and gracious as it is inevitable.
While I am not a gambler, I’ve been here long enough to know that the revitalization of the city is a long shot, at least in the near term. If long term energy, environmental, and economic trends will inevitably lift the city once again into a prosperous future, then those positive trends will be as relentless as the negative ones which have dragged us down, and the negative impacts of a casino will easily be overcome. In the here and now the city needs an infusion of capital, an infusion of energy, and an infusion of belief.
If the city “wins” I have no doubt that it will be at the expense of our neighbors for now. That their prosperity has come at the expense of the city for so long may be of no consolation, but the city once again becoming the center of the region is the natural way of things, and (except for the post WWII years in the U.S.) has been since the project of civilization began.