Readers’ Forum: Casino benefit still doesn’t add up for Richmond

By Gayle McLaughlin
Guest commentary
Thursday July 25, 2009

ON MAY 14, 2005, the Times published an article I wrote titled: Casino at Point Molate is a losing bet for Richmond. In this article, I took issue with the idea that a casino would sustain our local economy, our environment and our social well-being here in Richmond. Fast forward four years later and here we are with the draft environmental impact documents completed and released to the public for comment.

In my article in 2005, I cited the exhaustive study “Casinos, Crime and Community Costs” conducted by Grinols & Mustard. This study examined the relationship between casinos and crime, showing that the opening of casinos creates new crimes. Findings from this study indicate that we can expect a substantial increase in crime within a few years after a casino is built. Given the serious and tragic crime we already experience in Richmond, this study is especially significant and indicates that the cost to community runs deep.

Here are a few other concepts to ponder. Our nation and our state are in the middle of profound economic recession with no end in sight. Are casinos somehow “recession proof?” The answer to that question can be found in countless news articles documenting that tax revenue from gambling proceeds nationwide have dropped for 2 years in a row now. Even the American Gaming Association (AGA), a proponent of gaming in the U.S., is acknowledging the drop. Their 2009 report states that “With its reduction in consumer spending and freezing credit markets, the recession that began in late 2007 made 2008 a challenging year for the commercial casino industry.”

Certainly, all bets are off as we witness Indian casinos suffering in today’s economy. Many casino operators nationwide, including in California, are putting off or canceling big expansions and reducing staffs. Some casinos have closed and others are filing for bankruptcy. The bottom line is clear. As gamblers spend less, profits shrink or disappear and tribal governments are hit hard.

So what does all that tell us about the proposed casino for Point Molate? For anyone who looks at the data with eyes wide open, it’s clear that urban casinos have reached the point of diminishing returns. There are just so many people willing to lose money gambling and they are pretty well tapped out.

And in terms of those who still are lured by the casino’s false promise of quick money, we can expect financially strapped local households to be impacted, leaving much-needed money on the casino table. Problem and pathological gamblers are sure to increase which no one, not even the environmental report, disputes.

The developers attempt to counter this by claiming that thousands (a day!) of high rollers from San Francisco will visit. Even apart from the statistics showing decreased casino visits, the scenario of thousands of high-roller gamblers coming across the Bay daily to Point Molate during their San Francisco vacation seems a bit-farfetched. Most visitors vacationing in the Bay Area come here to experience the beauty of our West Coast natural environment, as well as the cultural backdrop presented by our region’s enriching theater, music and art experience, not to mention family tourist spots such as Fisherman’s Wharf.

Let’s think this through clearly. First of all, urban casinos have been studied and are known to create an increase in crime and other social ills. Secondly, gaming revenue is down and even the gaming proponents can’t hide their heads in the sand about this fact. Thirdly, the idea that San Francisco will suddenly start attracting high roller gamblers that seek to feed their addiction at Point Molate is a fantasy that flies in the face of our region’s attraction and well-known reputation.

So, where does that leave the Point Molate project? Is it a non-starter? Does the argument that this casino proposal will bring great economic benefit to Richmond have any viability?

Richmond certainly can use increased revenue. But, as many of us have said before, we need to pursue realistic solutions, putting the burden for increased revenue on those who can afford it most.

It is important to note that a previous City Council did approve an agreement with the current development team. However, the developments defined in this environmental report can be rejected and the “no action” alternative can be seen to be in the best interest of the Richmond community.

If the “no action” alternative is approved, the city may have an opportunity to take a look at other proposals for Point Molate.

The future of Point Molate still rests in the hands of the city of Richmond. City officials have an obligation to our residents to examine the future of Point Molate with serious and critical attention.

The public is invited to comment at or on Aug. 12 at 6 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 6 p.m., at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium, 403 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond, CA, 94804.

Written comments also can be mailed to Richmond Planning Department, 450 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond, CA 94804 or can be e-mailed to

McLaughlin is mayor of Richmond.

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