View Point

By Keiko Bonk

Saturday, June 6, 1997

Gambling: For Big Isle,
odds are bad

Some try to portray the Green Party's support for the protection of our environment and communities as anti-development. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What the Greens oppose is economic development that benefits a few investors at the expense of the rest of the community.

Inevitably, those proposing this kind of pseudo-development try to sell it to the public with the false promise of jobs and increased tax revenues. We have seen too much of this pseudo-development.

One of the latest and potentially most destructive examples of this kind of pseudo-development is legalized gambling. This is going to be a long and hard fight because, with the help of a few local politicians, some extremely powerful (and to my mind unscrupulous) "investors" have targeted our fragile community for takeover.

In the last legislative session, Rep. Jerry Chang was trying to sell legalizing casino gambling in North Kona, by giving people half-truths about its costs and benefits. Even if we narrow-mindedly ignore the true costs of the gambling industry -- such as increased crime, addiction and violence -- and focus only on promises of jobs and revenues, the pro-gambling promotions turn out to be less than truthful.

Chang and other supporters of gambling are trying to sell this casino with the promise of 1,340 "new local jobs." What Chang doesn't tell the public is that, according to a study by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, this one casino will destroy 870 jobs that already exist in restaurants, bars and small family businesses.

There will be a net increase of only 470 jobs, and all except the lowest paying will not go to locals but to experienced casino employees brought in from Las Vegas and other gambling cities unable to employ all their experienced workers.

Supporters of gambling claim it will bring in $71 million in annual business. But they fail to tell you that, according to the accounting firm that prepared the financial analysis, only $26 million would be in "new business."

The remaining $45 million would simply be money that used to be spent in many different businesses, but will now be spent only in the casino. In other words, $45 million per year will be redistributed from existing businesses to the casino.

This destruction of local businesses and redistribution of profits to those who control gambling have been repeated in every community where gambling was legalized. In Atlantic City, consumer spending nose-dived with 33 percent fewer small businesses operating and a drop from 250 to 150 restaurants in a decade.

The less diverse the economy, the more devastating the effects. In one small city in Colorado, the number of "mom 'n' pop" stores fell 85 percent after gambling was legalized.

When the Chicago Crime Commission researched a proposal to open casinos in Chicago, it warned of increased crime, stated that gambling interests had exaggerated job claims and concluded that casinos would "create some new jobs but at the low end of the wage scale."

In fact, it reported that one-third of all casino jobs in Atlantic City pay only $5,000-$10,000 per year, and 80 percent pay less than $30,000 annually.

It is unlikely Hawaii would come anywhere near these figures. But even if it did, that would mean that the most likely best-case scenario for current residents is that they would get 155 new jobs paying $5,000-$10,000 annually. The rest of the jobs would go primarily to workers brought in by the gambling industry, and the bulk of the profits would go off-island to gambling "business" owners.

The end result would not be economic development, but rather a loss of economic diversity, much higher government expenditures due to increased crime and social problems, a massive export of economic capital, increased political corruption, and a general decline in the quality of life on Hawaii.

We can't afford the true costs of this kind of "investment."

Keiko Bonk is former chairwoman
of the Hawaii County Council.

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