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Horns of a Gambling Dilemma

Tough to find a hero among all these goats

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I can't believe what an absolute goat-fuck this whole casino thing seems to be. Although maybe I'm being unfair to goats.

What the hell are the people offering up the Harrah's deal smoking? Will they please send me a case?

The Post-Gazette reports that in the casino industry, a standard slot machine brings in between $200 and $400 a day. Yet somehow, Harrah's is claiming that if its planned casino at Station Square gets built, its slot machines here will bring in a projected $485 per day. Are they out of their minds or lying through their teeth?

"I don't know if I'd say they're lying or just dreaming," says Jake Haulk of the Allegheny Institute think tank. He says we'd have to have the population density of Chicago for slots to bring in that kind of cash. Harrah's competitors and opponents call it "pie in the sky." Yeah, everybody will want some pie, after they smoke the prognosticator's wacky tobacky.

Harrah's says it has a bigger customer base around the country so it can send more customers here. I'm sorry, but if they already have the slot lever in their hand in Vegas or wherever, why exactly would they come to Pittsburgh?

I haven't really been on the Isle of Capri's bandwagon until now. That's the group that's partnered up with the Penguins; if they get the lone license for slots gambling in the city, they've promised to build the hockey team a new arena. The radio sports talkers in town are firmly behind the Isle of Capri because they love Mario. But I'm not a big hockey nut, and I don't really care much about its retired superstars.

Still, at least Isle of Capri isn't promising the moon, the sun, the stars and free pie. And we need to keep all the assets we have here. An NHL franchise is an asset -- which is why Kansas City, and other mid-sized metropolises are trying to lure the Pens.

Public officials are suggesting that Harrah's and a third would-be slots developer should commit to building an arena for the Pens too. They seem reluctant, for whatever reason, but if we're going to have additional crime, traffic, drugs and fires, we might as well keep the hockey pucks flying.

How do I know about all these unwanted side effects of casino gambling? The experts vouch for it. And here's another nod to Isle of Capri: The P-G reports they're the only Pittsburgh applicant to attempt to quantify the additional bad stuff. So they get points for honesty.

How much new bad stuff? The Isle folks say we can expect around 300 new crimes like vandalism, stealing, traffic violations, and incidents involving alcohol and drugs. What? Why do people have to speed or run red lights or drink or do drugs to operate a slot machine? Also, we're told to expect more fire calls, again somewhere around 300. Are gamblers arsonists by nature?

I know all sorts of poor schmucks are going to spend their last dime at these loser pits. And I've always heard organized crime may try to muscle in. But until now, I didn't know someone would steal my hubcaps, set my car on fire and exceed the speed limit in the getaway car.

If nothing else, says Jake Haulk, these rival proposals prove that the state should have auctioned the licenses off, rather than merely require a one-time fee of $50 million.

"Obviously they're worth hundreds of millions," he says: After all, how else could Isle of Capri offer to pony up hundreds of millions for the new arena?

Haulk also says new slots may hurt revenues at the state lottery, "But no one talks about that."

And don't get me started on this ridiculous middleman concept. We're the only state in the country that requires the casinos to buy slot machines from middlemen, rather than directly from the manufacturer. It's another help-your-rich-and-well-connected-friends proposal cooked up by those bastions of public virtue, your state legislature.

Former County Executive Jim Roddey is a middleman. So is former Pittsburgh City Councilor Sala Udin. So is WQED general manager George Miles. And I thought public broadcasting was so pure.

Hey, they're just taking advantage of a legal business opportunity. But the more I see the details, the more this fiasco really gets my goat.

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