Proposed Cowlitz casino will siphon resources from Clark County businesses and residents
Ed Lynch is a Vancouver businessman and philanthropist.He is chairman of Citizens Against Reservation Shopping, a citizens group opposed to the proposed casino.
Before local businesses begin queuing up to make deals with developers of the proposed Cowlitz casino (per your Oct. 27 editorial "Dealer takes all"), they should become better acquainted with whom they would be doing business, and the impact a mega-casino could have on their companies and the community.
Seattle-based developer David Barnett and the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut portray the proposed casino as a boon to the economy. But a boon business would produce goods and services that would draw money to the region. A boon business would offer a better average salary than $28,000 – $5,000 below the current Clark County average.
Casinos in Washington and Oregon draw two-thirds of their revenues from visitors living within an hour’s drive, according to ECONorthwest. But the developers keep talking about the money casino-bound tourists would bring to the area. The facility would drain disposable income from the wallets of area residents. This business depends on people losing, and many would be your neighbors.
As for tourists, the casino is a destination resort, designed to keep customers on site. Visitors are surrounded by 3,000 video slot machines, 135 gaming tables and 20 poker tables, 295,000 square feet of retail shopping, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, plus a 5,000-seat multipurpose area. They would stay in the 250-room hotel or at the 220-space RV park with no incentive to visit neighboring communities.
The casino-resort would have many advantages over its competition. In addition to being the county’s largest-ever development and employer, it would be run by a sovereign nation using tribal rules. It would not have to comply with county building codes – or with the statewide ban on smoking in public places. The proposed casino-resort would be the only venue in Southwest Washington where smokers could light up while out on the town.
The tribe did sign an agreement with the county to make concessions such as payments in lieu of property taxes. But it would not have to pay state business and occupation tax, industrial insurance, unemployment insurance or the state’s minimum wage.
It would also drain the region’s pool of leisure and hospitality workers – workers who are already in demand, according to the Employment Security Department. Casino developers have said they would hire 3,000 to 5,000 people. Many of those could be drawn from local businesses, or like the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, imported from China, Korea, Puerto Rico and Haiti.
Most members of the Cowlitz Tribe, who this casino is supposed to benefit, live in Cowlitz, Lewis and Thurston counties. Only a small percentage of the casino-generated cash earmarked for tribal members would be spent in Clark County. A few area businesses may benefit by getting supplier contracts, but for most the development would be a drain. Baylor University economist Earl Grinols writes that introducing a casino into a community fails a cost-benefit test by a $3 to $1 ratio.
The La Center junction is part of The Discovery Corridor, an area the Columbia River Economic Development Council has designated a growth area. It would offer space, infrastructure and access to boon businesses that would help the region achieve a high-wage economy. This corridor might be developed into a research park or a corporate headquarters rather than a little Reno.
Once a casino is built, it is never un-built. There is no trial period to see how it would affect our area. If local leaders and citizens do not step forward now and work to turn it away, this casino-resort will drain the strength from the Clark County economy we have worked so hard to build.