As new casinos continue to open in Carson City, I keep asking myself a recurring question: How much gambling is too much for our historic capital city? Not that anyone else is asking this question. In fact, our city supervisors seem to operate on the theory that any development is good development.
But I don't think that all development is good development. Witness some of the schlocky and ugly buildings that have sprung up around town - including one or two in the downtown historic district - that do nothing to enhance the image of our city. The owners of those buildings shall remain anonymous in order to protect the guilty.
The supervisors are guilty, too, for approving such eyesores.
On the other hand, I welcome the new Bodines Casino because it's owned by the Carano family, which operates the highly successful Eldorado in Reno, and counts among its top executives Rick Murdock, who grew up here as the son of the late Roger Murdock, a colorful businessman who championed downtown Carson City.
Nevertheless, I worry about the seemingly uncontrolled expansion of gambling in our town. Investors can't open casinos fast enough, but that isn't the kind of development that is most beneficial to our local economy because most gambling taxes go to the state and not to municipalities.
Casinos make a significant but lesser contribution to sales and property taxes, which are essential to local governments and the services they provide, like police and fire protection.
The Reno Gazette-Journal last month reminded us that casino gambling isn't a cure for everything that ails us on the brink of an economic recession. "Thirty years after the first casino opened in Atlantic City, N.J., the first legal casino outside of Nevada, residents still argue about the impact that the gaming industry has had on that once-dying resort city," the RGJ noted in an editorial. "The consensus appears to be that the casinos ... brought much-needed jobs" to a town with a high unemployment rate, the editorial continued. "It's also generally agreed that the glitzy hotel-casinos that now line the city's Boardwalk ... have had little effect on the city's poorest, most decrepit neighborhoods. Excess and poverty apparently coexist without rubbing off on each other."
That's true and a walk down Reno's Fourth Street or through certain Carson City neighborhoods will confirm the fact that casino benefits are distributed unevenly. You can walk right out the back doors of some of our local casinos and find dirt-poor neighborhoods. Another problem that bothers me is that too many casino customers are those who can least afford to lose their hard-earned money, including minimum wage workers and my fellow seniors.
Gambling, AN ADULT CHOICE
Of course gambling is a matter of adult choice and if you choose to play a poker machine all day long, that's your business until and unless your choice impacts my quality of life and my pocketbook.
So you can do whatever you wish with your money unless you incur public expenses that I'm required to pay through higher taxes. In other words, if you gamble your way onto the welfare rolls, that's a cost you're passing along to me and other taxpayers. And we don't have any choice in the matter.
How many Carsonites are gambling more than they can afford? Well, just look around at those sleazy payday loan storefronts, which proliferate like weeds in your front yard as they sprout up around each new casino. "Free money," they advertise, and a free Coke, too. Nothing is free, however, since they charge usurious interest rates. My guess is that there are at least 10 payday loan offices for every casino in a direct, and very unhealthy, cause-and-effect relationship.
I think runaway gambling is an important issue for our Board of Supervisors.
Therefore, I want to know if any of the candidates for mayor or supervisor have considered the social and economic consequences of gambling gone wild in our town. Until now, we haven't had to rely on gambling and tourism as the cornerstones of our local economy because Carson is home to state government, several non-gaming tourist attractions and a small but growing small business sector.
Although outgoing Mayor Marv Teixeira has an interest in pushing for construction of the V&T Railway between Virginia City and Carson City, I wonder whether we can afford his grand plan with all of the other urgent expenses that the city faces.
If I had to choose between the V&T and enhanced police and fire protection, I'd choose the latter as a higher priority than the railway.
Gaming is no longer a recession-proof industry. I'd like to see Carson City diversify its economy by courting retail businesses and restricting new casino licenses. I think that would be good for the quality of life in our capital city, but that's only my opinion for what it's worth, if anything. You tell me.
• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, has been a Carson City resident since 1962.