In 1996, I'd been the Daily News' political writer for only a month or two when the paper sent (yes, sent!) me to Chicago to cover the Democratic National Convention, the most un-newsworthy "news event" of the 20th Century. One of the obligatory things for journalists back in the '90s was to follow Ed Rendell around and that I did -- and I saw first-hand his bizarre obsession. The then-Philly mayor was determined to bring a House of Blues -- or maybe a Planet Hollywood or Hard Rock Cafe, but especially a House of Blues -- to the City of Brotherly Love. At a party packed with very important people, the House of Blues guy, whoever that was, was the one who Rendell spent the night sucking up to.
House of Blues never did come to Philly. Hard Rock Cafe did -- and we all know what a history-altering event that was (#Sarcasm). The truth is that mayors do this -- they waste an inordinate amount of time chasing the shiny object like a Disneyquest, whatever that was. instead of the hard work of improving schools that could prepare thousands of kids for jobs that are better than selling video game tokens.
Nothiing is more wasteful in this regard than the quest for casinos. They do some good things -- like creating short-term construction jobs -- and some bad things, like funding government on the backs of gambling addicts. But generally, show me a city that's hot for casinos and I'll show you a loser city.
Urban affairts guru Richard Florida had an excellent piece this weekend on why casimos are losing bets:
While politicians and casino magnates seek to sell gambling complexes to the public as magic economic bullets, virtually every independent economic development expert disagrees — and they have the studies to back it up.
More than a decade ago, the bipartisan National Gambling Impact Study Commission’s Final Report concluded that while the introduction of gambling to highly depressed areas may create an economic boost, it “has the negative consequence of placing the lure of gambling proximate to individuals with few financial resources.”
Here's more from our backyard:
The typical customer of an urban casino is neither a tourist nor a deep-pocketed whale, but a local of modest means. Dave Jonas, president of Philadelphia’s Parx Casino, told the Pennsylvania Gaming Congress in 2010 that his typical customer spends $25 or $30 dollars a visit — and many of them return three, four and five times a week.
Much of the tax revenue produced by gambling comes out of their pockets. A “tax on ignorance” is what Warren Buffett once called it.
“I find it socially revolting when a government preys on the weakness of its citizenry rather than serving them,” he added.
And yet despite of this, state and some local officials in Philly are plowing ahead with their schemes for a second casino, when one slots palace in town and two more on our immediate borders seem much, much more than sufficient. Warren Buffett is right -- the whole thing is revolting. Maybe Philadelphia will come to its senses before it actually catches this shiny object.