Monday, July 25, 2005

Slots and Sluts

To a drought stricken region, dark clouds on the horizon offer the promise of rain. But dark clouds can be accompanied by destructive forces, by winds, lightning and torrential rains that do much more harm than good.
Like great dark clouds to the west, gambling is on Portsmouth’s horizon – again. Those clouds were there before, in 1988 and 1996, when gambling was on the ballot, but Ohio voters decided on those occasions that the potential harm was greater than any financial gain gambling might bring. But the dark clouds are back. Pro-gambling forces are trying to amend Ohio’s constitution to allow qualified cities to legalize land-based casino gambling. Because it has a home rule charter and has one of the other requirements a city must meet (being a county seat), Portsmouth is one of three cities in southeastern Ohio that would qualify. Ironton and Gallipolis are the other two.
The ruling elite in Portsmouth were aware of these dark clouds before they were on the public’s radar. I found it hard to believe than any informed person could believe the Front Street murals could attract enough visitors to justify expending millions of dollars of public funds on the “Kenrick’s” tourist center. But if the ruling clique is right in betting that gambling will come to Portsmouth, then that visitor center will no doubt be a busy place. But it will be serving people who came to Portsmouth not so much to see the murals as to play the slots.
I was astonished by what a piece of private Front Street property near the Municipal Building sold for last year. It made absolutely no sense unless someone was betting that gambling would come to downtown Portsmouth. If gambling does come, then all downtown properties, particularly in the area of the Municipal Building, the Ramada Inn, and the new bridge can be expected to skyrocket in value.
The determination of the ruling clique and their local political prostitutes to tear down the Municipal Building can best be understood when put in the gambling context. Acting Mayor Kalb said in a public forum that Portsmouth’s riverfront property is potentially valuable and that he knew of a developer who was interested in the Municipal Building site. Since when is riverfront property in Portsmouth valuable? Only since legalized gambling became a distinct possibility.
The Ramada Inn has struggled for years and would not have been able to survive without the kind of pork that has kept others in business in Portsmouth, which has been like a Third World city for a long time. When I came for an interview at the university in 1989, I was put up at the Ramada, as all university visitors are. I traveled in the Third World in the 1970s, and when I stayed at the Ramada I felt I was back in a Third World hotel. Without university business, which is ultimately public money, and without serving as a dormitory for the university, would the Ramada still be in business? It is certainly not the Ramada that made downtown property valuable. It is the prospect of slots that make the Ramada and other downtown properties look like a potential goldmine. We already have the sluts. (For a libertarian read on the sluttishness of slots, look at
The Portsmouth Daily Times recently (28 June 2005) ran a front-page story by Mark Shaffer with the headline “Gambling Draws Local Support.” Who is the local support? The only supporter quoted is a local businessman, someone identified in the story as “Kevin Johnson, the co-owner of the Emporium at Portsmouth . . .” The PDT reports that Kevin Johnson is in favor of legalized land-based gambling in Portsmouth. Kevin Johnson pointed to unspecified cities in Colorado and South Dakota as places where legalized gambling have been a good thing, and what’s good for cities in Colorado and South Dakota, he implies, will be good for Portsmouth. “He [Kevin Johnson] said casinos could mean turning around the local economy.”

“Gambling Draws Local Support” is the kind of slanted and inaccurate reporting that has made the PDT the prostitute of the local ruling clique for at least a quarter of a century and probably much longer. A story on a local antique dealer’s enthusiasm for legalized gambling is published without checking on the nature of the purported success of legalized gambling in Colorado and South Dakota. In a twenty-minute search on the Internet PDT reporter Mark Shaffer could have found enough documented criticism of gambling in South Dakota and Colorado to balance Kevin Johnson’s rosy scenario for legalized gambling in Portsmouth. When if ever will the PDT point out the potential environmental, social, and moral costs of “revitalizing” Portsmouth through gambling dollars?
Perennial Political Pawn David Malone at Work
We can expect more coverage like "Gambling Draws Local Support" by the PDT in the months and years ahead. Expect the forces pushing for legalized gambling to spend big bucks in promotional campaigns. Expect the PDT to be the recipient of many of those promotional dollars. Expect local businessmen and politicians to cite unspecified studies, as Kevin Johnson does, that imply legalized gambling will be the answer to Portsmouth’s economic woes, as “the mall” was supposed to be back in 1980.
In a cursory look on the internet, I found many websites promoting legalizing gambling in Colorado and South Dakota. These websites are sponsored by the gambling interests in those states. They obviously have a vested interest in convincing the public legalized gambling is a good thing. If your research extends no further than these patently biased sources, you will be impressed, as Kevin Johnson is, by the possibilities of legalized gambling in Portsmouth. A final word about Kevin Johnson. According to the County Auditor’s records, Paul E. Johnson and Kevin Warren are co-owners of the Emporium, a new antique store on Chillicothe St., so Mark Shaffer may have mixed up their names. If so, that was not the only thing he did not get right in the story.

After PBS showed a Frontline program on legalized gambling in the USA, a Colorado viewer wrote a letter to PBS saying, “I want to thank you for the excellent story about gambling. A few years ago when I lived in Colorado I voted for legalized gambling in the town of Blackhawk just west of Boulder and Denver. Today I would never vote for something like that again. I saw the slow decay of that beautiful mountain town and what that type of business can do! It basically destroyed the spirit of the town. The locals were driven out by big money, and fast life style in the name of progress. Closer to home a co-worker of mine hits the Native American casinos on a regular basis, and has in my opinion nearly bankrupted his family. I realize as Americans we control our own destiny, but what kind of future are we creating for ourselves? I get very scared when I hear of all the problems of this country, but I think this problem needs immediate attention! At the rate we are spending money on the ‘Gaming’ industry what is going to happen to us when the well runs dry, all this investment could have been more wisely spent on perhaps educating children against the evils of gaming.”

Another viewer wrote PBS from Colorado to say, “Your program regarding gambling was very interesting. I live in Colorado and we have legalized gambling in three small mountain towns and the State of Colorado lottery. I have seen my in-laws who are in their 70's spend their time and money on the pursuit of ‘easy money.’ It amazes me because they worked very hard all their lives to be able to retire with a modest income. They use to camp and ride their dirt bikes in our beautiful Rocky Mountains. Now, they take bus trips to gambling towns in and outside our State. I personally do not enjoy gambling or understand the pleasure in it. I have not expressed to them my opinion of gambling because it is after all, their right. Four years ago, I met a man who moved to Colorado from Las Vegas. Originally, he told me he moved because he was tired of the rat race and his now ex-wife was transferred here by her company. He lived here over a year before discovering legalized gambling just 30 minutes away from Denver. He became a frequent visitor to the gambling casinos. His whole personality changed. He began losing large sums of money he did not have. He would take out cash advances on credit cards in order to try and 'win it back.' To make a long story short, he never did 'win it back' and eventually hit bottom when he lost his job and had to file bankruptcy for the second time in his life. I learned later on that he had a terrible gambling problem and that was one of the reasons for the move to Colorado. I do not agree with the widespread of legalized gambling. I am concerned for the children who sit in lobbies with very little to do while their parents are gambling. I think gambling is one of the factors contributing to the demoralization of American society.”

And what about South Dakota, the other state Kevin W. Johnson mentioned? “Since South Dakota voted to make Deadwood a casino town in 1989, South Dakota politics have been hijacked by the massive political spending of gambling interests,” according to Mother Jones Magazine. A citizens' group on the internet ( wrote, "Deadwood (South Dakota) is a prime example of what happened to a small self-sufficient community after the opening of casinos in its town. The town was lured by the promise of a much larger tax base, a larger tourist industry, and all the other lures that an industry will use to force the passing of ordinances to allow the business to locate in a community that otherwise would not allow it." The same citizens' group provided the following report, the information in which they attributed to U.S. News & World Report (14 Mar. 1994):

"Shortly after the advent of legalized casino gambling [Nov. 1989], the Deadwood [South Dakota] casino economy lurched forward. The state attorney's office in Deadwood indicated that within approximately two years:

1. Child abuse cases had increased 42% to 43% (from 350 to 500 cases);

2. Police costs had increased 80% to 100% with a virtual doubling of the number of police officers;

3. Although national statistics had increased only slightly, crime in the Deadwood area had increased overall by 10% (although prior to 1989 the crime rate had been declining) with a 50% increase in felonies. Furthermore, there were 614 Class One misdemeanors or felonies in 1988, and 1,070 in 1992, a 75% increase in four years;

4. Domestic violence and assaults had risen 80%; and

5. Burglaries and writing of bad checks had increased . . .

One of the saddest impacts of gambling and casinos in a community are the costs in people. The property and money loss are nothing compared to what people have to do to obtain the money to support their habits. And the saddest of these is when teen age girls have to turn to prostitution to get the money they need. It becomes epidemic as casinos and gambling have always lured girls and women into prostitution.

Teenage girls are forced into prostitution when they can't pay their gambling debt to the loan shark. In 1976 Atlantic City had no prostitution problem - today it is a public health problem.”

It is also possible that the lure of gambling, like the lure of the 1980 mall, by promising prosperity, will take in the hopefully gullible but amount in the end to nothing, and there will be further recriminations against those who challenged gambling for having prevented progress and prosperity. If gambling does come to Portsmouth, the Marting building might finally be recycled appropriately, in view of its recent notoriety, either as a casino or, in the unlikely event prostitution might be legalized, as the biggest bordello east of the Rockies.
Biggest bordello east of the Rockies?