Arguing Against a Casino in a Soundbyte Culture

Ah, well. I understand the choices that are unavoidably part of crafting a short news segment, but I can’t say I’m thrilled with the soundbyte that BSR88.1 reporter Chris Gang chose from my 20 minute conversation with him for his piece on the casino question on Off the Beat. The argument I tried to present was as follows.

As usual, in this state, one gets the feeling that the interested parties haven’t come forward with an honest proposition, but rather that we’re merely seeing the public face painted on rank self interest. Throw in all of the other “only in Rhode Island” details, such as slippage and contentious debates about how long politicians have to wait before they can collect handouts, and the whole deal is just suspicious.
But the bottom line, even were everything completely ethical, is that Rhode Island is too small. This will become a central — perhaps defining — characteristic of the state.
To explain: I grew up in New Jersey, and I never understood the (sort of) primetime sitcom jokes about how urban and polluted the Garden State was until my father explained that most people judge New Jersey not by its suburbs and family beaches, but by the drive from the airport to New York City or to Atlantic City. Similarly, throw a large casino into the heart of Rhode Island, and the qualities that make this state genuinely attractive will recede.
The most recent pro-casino commercial that I’ve seen tacitly confirms this by emphasizing how significant supplying the casino can become to the Rhode Island economy. Personally, I don’t want a casino to become significant to Rhode Island. If it’s another thing to do (like Hai Lai or Lincoln park), fine, but as a Rhode Islander, I don’t want it to become the thing to do.
Now, the most relevant argument from casino proponents is that a major casino would act as a draw — that visitors will explore the state, as it were. But who will visit this sort of destination? If it’s night-trippers, as everybody I know has been every time they’ve gone to Foxwoods, then they’re not interested in exploring the area. For example, if they haven’t dined in their own area, they’ll do so at the casino. If it’s people seeking a casino vacation, then the resort casino is designed to keep them in the hotel gambling. Beyond gambling, food is there; shopping is there; shows are there.
The only people likely to leave the casino to explore Rhode Island’s other attractions are those who’ve come with the intention of doing so. And even if the casino’s lures to keep them in the building fail and they go out into the state, at the very least it will be true that some other hotel — a hotel located with the primary goal of providing access to Rhode Island — will have lost that business.

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