Study says gaming boosts economy

Sep 20, 2005 4:55 AM

Maryland Heights is a riverboat town of 27,000 near St. Louis, Mo., that took on gambling eight years ago and turned it into a $130 million winner.

"The only downside to gambling is the addiction and I don’t see St. Louis shutting down Anheuser Busch," Mayor Mike Moeller said in addressing a "boom or bust" debate at the Global Gaming Expo last week.

Ross Alexander, assistant political science professor at North Georgia State College supported Moeller’s pro-gaming position. Dave Giacopossi, professor of the Memphis University department of criminology weighed in on the negatives. Both used surveys and theories. Moeller dealt in reality.

"I’ve represented Maryland Heights for 20 years," the mayor said. "Opponents predicted gambling would bring moral decay and drive companies away. Casinos have not made us rich, but we’re doing okay."

Okay is having 50 restaurants and 16 hotels built since gaming was approved in 1997.

"We began with two casinos, but Harrah’s bought out Players Island," Moeller said. "Harrah’s has delivered everything they promised. If their casino money went away, so would the $39 million we invested for a four-lane express highway. And, so would free trash pickup."

Moeller said it took two times for the town to pass riverboat gaming. Today, the second guessers are quiet.

"Harrah’s is active in our Chamber of Commerce," he said. Public confidence was won over and I’m here to say gambling has had a huge positive affect in my town."

Alexander has been studying gambling policy for the past seven years. His conclusions were pro-gaming.

"I found from my study that the major plus in gambling is the economic and political impact," he said. "Gaming is good for generating funds."

Alexander said that riverboat towns such as Maryland Heights turn to gambling "because they have no other alternatives. Beggars can’t be choosers, one might say."

Giacopassi said there were both good and bad sides to gambling, citing that the public perception that gaming attracts a bad element and raises the crime rate. "People believe want they want to believe," he said. "There remains a significant minority opposed to gaming, especially in the Bible Belt. They think casinos are hot spots for disreputable people. That’s the big negative."

However, Giacopassi concluded he was "somewhere in the middle," regarding whether gaming was a boom or bust to lower income communities.

"In most cases, economics wins out," he said. "And that’s gambling’s biggest strength."