As I’m writing this on Saturday, August 11, I do not know what the results of the referendum on table games here in my home of Kanawha County will be, but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve gone from being an enthusiastic supporter of the idea to being so turned off by the promotional campaign that for the first time in my life, I am deliberately not going to the voting booth. I’ve reached a point where I can’t support either side.
Let me preface this by explaining my take on legalized gambling. I couldn’t care less about it. I won’t indulge in it. In fact, I consider it a tax on stupidity. As someone who tries very hard to keep his indulgence in stupidity to a minimum, it doesn’t really have that much of an effect on me, so I say tax the hell out of stupidity. I’m all for raising taxes on those vices in which I don’t participate. They pass a tax on cigarettes, liquor, ATVs or Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I won’t mind at all.
I’m not opposed to legalizing table games in principle. I half-jokingly tend to lean toward supporting anything that organized religion opposes. I think that area churches that hung banners saying “Vote No” should have their tax exempt status revoked for violating the laws governing political neutrality among non-profit organizations. I’d even include churches among those vices in which I don’t participate that I’d like to see taxed. My guess is that the churches are mainly concerned because they know that the tithe money is going to be the first to be wagered at the roulette table.
Which is not to say that I disagree with everything the anti-gambling faction puts forth. Of course there will be more money-related misery and family-disintegrating drama introduced into the area with the casino culture. That’s a given. The more stupid stuff there is for people to do, the more people will do stupid stuff. The cost of maintaining the infrastructure for and fallout from a casino will be much greater than anyone realizes.
The lure for me, and what had me excited at the prospect for this casino resort deal in the first place was that this area would finally have a decent convention facility and entertainment complex. The Charleston Civic Center is a bit of a lost cause. I’m in contact with many organizations that hold national conventions, and I’ve always been sort of embarrassed by the fact that I can’t recommend my home city as a location, because the facilities are just woefully inadequate.
The idea of a 12,500-seat arena along with a first-class convention center had me psyched. Then Charleston Mayor Danny Jones stepped in. Now I like Danny–he doesn’t even know it, but he’s going to be on an episode of Radio Free Charleston in the near future–but I hate the political maneuvering that he applied to get the casino developers to scale back their plans so that they wouldn’t challenge the Civic Center. It sure looks like Danny traded his support for the casino for the scaled-down resort plan that would see the Civic Center protected from competition.
So the only reason I would have to go to this place evaporated. It makes me wonder about all the other rumors surrounding the casino. “If we get the casino, we’ll get an IMAX theater, and a Dave and Buster’s and WWE would hold a pay-per-view there.” How much of that pie is real, and how high up in the sky is it?
And if those promises are bogus, created just to get people to vote “Yes,” then what about all the other promises? Let me look at one of the countless pieces of junk mail that I’ve received in the last couple of weeks:
Here are highlights from “11 Great Things Will Happen If You Vote Yes On August 11th.”
“1. 1,000 good-paying jobs will be realized for the people of our area.”
First of all, that doesn’t even seem correct grammatically. Second, it doesn’t define “good.” Are we talking about reversing some of the brain-drain that saw a couple thousand near-six-figure incomes transferred out of state when Dow bought Union Carbide, or are we talking about “slightly better than telemarketing good?”
“2. A fabulous $250 million dollar destination resort will be built with private funding and will include a hotel, restaurants, spa and entertainment complex.”
There’s no mention that the plan was cut in half so as not to threaten the obsolete Civic Center. I’m resenting on that, big time.
“7. With more than 65% of Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center’s patrons coming from out-of-state, the new facility will attract an even larger percentage of tourists who bring revenue to our local communities.”
Right. After blowing their mortgage money at craps, crestfallen gamblers are going to hit an antique mall, check out Camden Park, and then go whitewater rafting. “Honey, we have a hundred bucks left. Should we gamble it away, or go buy a vase at Blenko?”
Oh, and if I read that correctly, you’re promising that we’ll have EVEN MORE drivers in this area from Ohio? That’s a selling point?
“8. Funding will go directly to Kanwha County municipalities, which could keep our taxes from increasing.”
“11. Money will go to our cities to provide many needed community services.”
Is anybody else concerned that, with this slick, expensive ad campaign at their disposal, that the people pushing for legalized table games were so hard up for reasons to support their cause that they used the same reason twice? Reasons numbers 8 and 11 are THE SAME!
On top of that, they really don’t promise much. Reason number 8 is worded as if it’s a threat that taxes will go up if table games aren’t approved. Reason number 11 is just the same reason without the implied threat.
And just exactly where was Danny Jones in all this? He could have guaranteed a slam-dunk win on behalf of the pro-gambling forces by simply making one promise: Vote Yes, and the user fee will be eliminated! With so much money coming in from the suckers fine resort guests, the City of Charleston could do away with that onerous user fee. Mayor Jones could have coerced three-fourths of the county to come out and vote yes.
But he didn’t do that. So much for all that gamblin’ money coming to the rescue. Why would the city give up one revenue stream for another when they can have BOTH?
Actually, reasons number 5 and 10 are pretty much the same, too. Funding the unfunded pension plans is promised in both of them. I’d go into detail, but I feel dirty handling the pamphlets they’ve been sending to me.
I’ve gotten so much junk mail that I’ve grown suspicious of the motives of those involved in the “Vote Yes” crowd. Millions of dollars have been dumped into this issue, and now I don’t trust either side. Corporations don’t pump that kind of money into an election without expecting something in return. Just look at Don Blankenship.
So I’m not going to vote. Let the chips fall where they may, but I’ve got no interest in participating. Sure, I’ll still have to deal with whatever aftermath results, but I find myself hard-pressed to sympathize with either side now. Millions of dollars were spent to secure my apathy on the matter. If more people are thinking like I am, then that’s money that was gambled and lost.
UPDATE: As of late Sunday night, the pro-table games forces are claiming a narrow victory, but we won’t know for sure until the recounts and canvasses are completed a few days from now. This may be one of the closest elections we’ve seen in Kanawha County. If there were more people like me, who were gung-ho about the idea at first, but were then badgered into disinterest by the relentless campaigning, it looks like the pro-gaming folks have veered dangerously close to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.