In March 2012, NJ Governor Chris Christie proudly toured the new $2.4 billion Revel casino, saying “One of the things Revel will be is a catalyst for additional modernization and investment by the other casinos” while justifying tossing the casino $260 million in tax revenues as a bet on the pass line. Two scant years later, the Revel is one of four Atlantic City casinos permanently shuttered, and the likes of Beyonce and Bruce will never tread its barely scuffed stage again.
When comedian Tracy Morgan was struck and seriously injured in a fatal car accident earlier this summer, he was on his way back from performing at a casino in Dover, Delaware. A Horseshoe Casino recently opened in Baltimore, the same nameplate hung on casinos recently opened in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and the booming metropolis of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Closer to home, Dania Casino is closing for at least a year… just six months after having reopened, and is letting at least 300 people go in the process. They say massive investment is required if they hope to compete with the four other casinos in south Broward.
So what does the racing form say on all this? It says that it’s time to acknowledge that casinos are no longer a sure bet.
There was a time when opening a resort casino in Miami Beach could have had a significant economic impact and been a major job creator. It was when the only options for gaming were Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or get on a cruise ship. It was when Hyman Roth…. errr… Meyer Lansky was lunching at the Singapore Hotel in Bal Harbour some 50 years ago. It’s not today’s reality.
In the 1990s there were more than 100 Planet Hollywood locations, today there are 8. The immutable truth is if you’re trying to compel someone from Dubuque to go 1,200 miles to experience something unique, it loses its uniqueness when one opens less than an hour’s drive away. The complete list of casinos in the US today is overwhelming… not just to read, but overwhelming any new potential entry’s share of the pot.
In South Florida there’s another element to consider. The Seminole compact has yielded a billion dollars for the state of Florida since 2008. If casino gaming is expanded to its fullest in Miami, that piñata can no longer be beaten. State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz was recently addressing the Miami Young Republicans, and pointed out that a new casino in Miami would have to provide $150 million a year in revenues before the state would even break even. He added that under the most recent proposal, the new Miami casino would have to clear the equivalent of the entire Las Vegas Strip’s annual profits to even start being a benefit for Florida.
This isn’t “a moral argument”. Certainly there’s hypocrisy inherent in a state curtailing gambling while also running a lottery. And I suppose the inherent American idea is that just because a business isn’t a good idea, doesn’t mean we legally forbid it from opening its doors — even if they really are doomed to close again soon.
Let’s just not have any of the discussion work from the assumption that all you have to do is scrawl “CASINO” in painted letters, hang the sign outside any door and automatically expected thousands of new jobs because of the billions you’re going to be pocketing. It’s time to realize there’s a fair chance you might come up snake-eyes.