Pros and Cons of Open Gambling
By Leslie McCartney of The
March 2, 2003
|A new lodge under
construction in Black Hawk, Colorado. While gambling brings
monies into a community, it also can bring changes that the
townspeople may not be expecting. Photo: Glen Martin of the Denver
While Butte is different in many ways from
Black Hawk and Central City, Colo., and Deadwood, S.D., the towns
share common threads: They are all Western mining towns whose boom
days have long gone and all were left searching for a savior to mend
their desperate economies.
What they found -- and some Butte officials are hoping to find with
a $1.8 billion project planned -- is gambling.
Gambling poured millions into those towns' economies, built
infrastructure to replace aging and expensive systems, saved
historic buildings, provided jobs, helped schools and created
"The people I've talked to seem pretty happy about it," said Dave
Blanchard, city manager for Black Hawk.
He said the town has an upgraded water system, low property taxes,
paved streets, new street lights, rehabilitated buildings and a
full-time paid fire and police departments -- something unheard of
in a community of only a few hundred people.
"If you are going to serve an industry, you have to serve it, and
the citizens benefit," he added.
But those who have experienced the change from charming, but ailing,
mining towns to a destination point warn that it comes with a price.
"Caution would be the word; it's a huge change, and people should do
this incrementally," said Jim Lindberg, an assistant director for
the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Denver. "It
completely transforms a community into a gambling community. People
shouldn't have any illusions about that," he said.
Lindberg worked closely with Colorado gaming towns in the late 1980s
and early 1990s, and his private nonprofit organization region
Deadwood, S.D., saw dramatic changes in its conversion to gaming.
"You can't buy groceries in Deadwood, you can't buy clothing, you
can't buy a birthday present," added Jay Vogt, a historic
preservation officer in South Dakota. He said that Main Street and
its businesses have all but vanished, since leasing buildings to
casinos was much more lucrative than continuing to operate a
"You just have casinos and residential. There's no heart to the
community," he added.
Gambling has become an economic bonanza for towns like Deadwood --
so popular that Indian tribes have large casinos, gambling riverboat
tours have been added in the South and other communities are
considering gambling as a way to survive.
Along with gambling's wealth of positives are negatives, too. Those
who have been through the process say the community should carefully
ensure it is protected and use gambling revenues wisely, funneling
them where they do the most good.
"If you do it, make sure your best interests are at heart," said
George Milos, executive director of the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce
and Visitors' Bureau, whose town sees about 1.5 million visitors a
year in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
part 2 >> Cold
© Copyright Leslie McCartney and the Montana
Standard, reproduced by permission.
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