The Press-Citizen's lead story this morning (August 1), page one, above the fold, big headline, is that Tom Arnold and Jay Leno are coming to entertain us at the new (opening the end of this month) casino in Riverside. Rachael Gallegos, "Big Names Rolling In To Casino; Arnold, Leno To Take The New Stage," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 1, 2006 (also available here). See also Gregg Hennigan, "Casino To Open Aug. 31; Riverside Resort to Open with Arnold, Leno Booked Sept. 16," The Gazette, August 1, 2006.
Questions and observations:
1. Ahead of schedule, under budget. Congratulations are in order for the contractor on this $135 million project [Hennigan]. ("To build a more than 350,000- square-foot facility in about 13 months, Fort Madison-based Frank Baxter Construction has had 65 subcontractors working on the facility, president Tony Baxter said." [Gallegos])
The contrast is stunning with the rain forest's decade-long effort that has failed to raise a dime of money or turn a shovelful of earth.
2. This is not "economic development." Although, "When the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort opens, it will be the 10th gaming facility within a two-hour drive of Iowa City [Casino Events Center General Manager Joe] Massa said officials predict 75 percent of the casino's customer base will come from within a one hour radius . . .." [Gallegos]
a. The "75 percent . . . within a one hour radius" is consistent with the 70-85% I recall from information about other attractions. What this means is that the $1 billion-plus left in Iowa's casinos is largely coming from Iowans and going to out-of-state corporations (in the case of Riverside, a family in South Carolina).
b. Whatever else one may say about the pros and cons of gambling casinos, it's very difficult for any state's citizens to gamble their way into economic prosperity -- even if the profits (Iowans' losses) were kept in the state.
c. Sadly, that's not the only downside to a gambling economy. No need to itemize all the externalities here, but they include increased bankruptcies, crime, domestic violence, suicides, and increased costs for law enforcement and other governmental expenses. A question for the University of Iowa is how many college students will be drawn to a casino "just down the road," with serious financial losses, and the risks of driving home after drinking. This is probably not exactly what their parents had in mind.
d. With 10 casinos within a two-hour drive of Riverside, and the Tama casino undertaking a $100-million-plus expansion, Riverside may end up with more competition for Iowa gamblers' dollars than its business plan projects.
3. The "75% within one hour" is equally applicable to the rain forest. But there's an important distinction. Those addicted to gambling, or problem gamblers -- the backbone of the gambling industry's revenue stream -- are far more likely to be paying return visits to a casino than visitors to a rain forest are likely to be paying return visits to a rain forest. So the challenge to the rain forest in meeting it's predicted 1-1.5 million visits a year projections from among the people who live within a one-hour's drive of Riverside, Iowa, is going to be even more severe than might initially appear.
4. Jay Leno. Why would Jay Leno agree to this gig? Given his wealth, is there any reasonable amount that would be enough for him to do it "for the money"? Consider the travel alone. Flying from L.A. to Iowa -- even in one's own private jet -- and then the ground transportation to Riverside, is not like a quick hop to Vegas. Following Tom Arnold in the opening of a gambling casino in a little Iowa town of less than 1000 population is not exactly something to add to his resume. Maybe the casino is paying him enough to make it worth his while to do it "for the money" -- as the big, dramatic casino opening with an act the likes of which (and the costs of which) will never be seen in Riverside again.