Downtown Casino: A Game We Can’t Win

Before reading below, please know and understand I am not a part of or active in any organization that speaks against gambling or casinos.  The words written below are based on research and data, not an agenda.

On a cool night last Saturday, I stood with friends and cheered amidst a huge crowd watching one of Jazz Fest’s biggest draws, Trombone Shorty.  As I stood in the open lot that formerly housed the infamous Midtown Plaza, I looked around at the city before me, the breathtaking space that no picture can really do justice.  It’s a space that would make for a remarkable urban park and performance venue, much like Millennium Park in Chicago.  Or perhaps something else that would make Rochester a better place.

Photo Jul 03, 9 41 33 AMPhoto Jul 03, 9 38 43 AM
But at the moment, that is not the plan being contemplated by the mayor and city officials for this parcel of land.  The idea that has been looked at recently is one that is so dangerous, it could quietly surpass the Fast Ferry as Rochester’s greatest blunder.

“Wait wait Arian, I thought this blog was about the positive things happening in Rochester? And I thought you hated when people mentioned the Fast Ferry?”

It is and I do.  I’m a huge proponent of the new businesses, residential spaces and public initiatives that are flourishing in our city.  I’m a fan of new ideas that will feed our local economy and raise our quality of life.  And while I hate to talk about it, the Fast Ferry left our city and created Rochester’s biggest scapegoat.  A casino would be like the Fast Ferry leaving and taking with it thousands of local jobs and all the upward momentum this city has been building for the last 5-7 years.

For us urban planning/social science junkies, downtown casinos are one of the worst possible “solutions,” simply because in the long run, they aren’t solutions at all.  In fact a wealth of data backs the conclusion that a casino in Rochester would worsen our most crippling issues of poverty, addiction and joblessness to name a few.

Casinos Don’t Create Local Jobs

OK, yes the casino itself would employ lots of Rochestarians.  But the impact on the community would create a net job loss.

It’s a simple concept really.  The casino would be a tax free or tax minimal entertainment, lodging and dining establishment run by the Seneca, meaning the revenue would not stay in Rochester and benefit our community.  To be clear, I have no issues with the Seneca Nation as I am personally unaware of the history of their business practices.  What I do know is the massive revenue generated by this proposed project would not stay in our city, and that is a huge concern.  In sum, the casino would have a distinct advantage over competing Rochester based food, lodging and entertainment establishments, and the money wouldn’t even stay in our county!

Dr. Earl Grinols, an economics professor at Baylor University stated that casinos created job losses in 42% of the counties in which they were introduced.  That’s a pretty big “gamble” for Rochester, a city that is in serious need of good jobs.

Research has shown that for every 3 video gaming machines that are installed, 2 local jobs are lost.

Steve H. Siegel, professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Niagara University conducted an in-depth study on Seneca Casinos and their impact on local economies.  In his scathing report, Siegel summed up the numbers-driven impact of urban casinos.

“What the public hears from the media about the supposed economic impact of the proposed casino is a series of very large numbers…What we rarely hear about is the devastating negative economic impact that research shows occurs when a tax exempt casino is placed on what is claimed to be sovereign land within an urban setting.”

“The citizens of WNY need a true accounting of the millions of dollars from the operation of a casino that would leave the area and flow to Albany. They also need to be told that this proposed casino will actually cause a net loss of jobs which will continue to hemorrhage out of WNY each year that the casino would be in operation.”

Casinos Have a Negative Social Impact

The glitzy lights and sounds of a bustling casino create the false impression of vibrancy and life.  The truth is, casinos like the one proposed in Rochester are seen by social scientists as a “tax on the poor,” as individuals often view casinos as a “get rich quick” possibility.  As we all know, the truth is, the casino always wins.

Casinos also play the quiet role of promoting unhealthy addiction in the areas they exist.  These addictions often have a crippling effect on populations of lower socioeconomic status.

While Creating Some Tourism, The Local Impact Would Be Worse

Yes, Casinos bring people to the areas they inhabit, and to some extent, this can have a positive effect on a region.  But data shows however, that more often than not, the negative effects on the local economy far outweigh the possibility of “compensatory” tourism.  In essence, it’s a gamble where the odds are worse than any slot machine in America.

Rochester’s Hail Mary

Casinos are desperate, last ditch efforts to save communities that have suffered.  Just like video gaming machines, they promise an exciting, quick and easy solution to a problem that is never quick and easy to fix.  They are the Hail Mary pass at the end of a football game that rarely works, and often ends up working against you.

We are not desperate.  We are not beaten yet.  We need to find sensible ways to keep jobs and revenue here in Rochester.

Let’s not allow the bright lights and the big numbers to sway the grassroots progress we’ve made in our city.  Let’s look at the big picture socioeconomic data and realize that the in-sum benefits of an urban casino pale in comparison to the crushing blow it would have on our rising local economy.  Let’s not give tax and land use advantages to a business that would take revenue AWAY from our community.  Let’s move forward with a Rochester that works for all of us, that unifies all of us and benefits all of us.






2 thoughts on “Downtown Casino: A Game We Can’t Win

    1. Thanks for your comment Anna! In fairness, job loss was reported in 42% of the counties after the casinos were established… Not 42% job loss across the board. Still, what the number shows how potentially dangerous this project could be. That is prime real estate, we need to put something in place that we can be sure will strengthen our community, not gamble it away (literally!) 🙂


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