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Casino benefits outweigh negatives?

May 26, 2005|By MICHAEL A. SALORIO, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Voters here have more information to mull in deciding the fate of a proposed Indian casino project that's the subject of a June 7 referendum.

A socio-economic impact study of the casino project performed by San Diego State University officials was revealed Wednesday during a town hall meeting that about 20 people attended.

The study's overall conclusion explains that: "Generally, the proposed casino is found to be a significant potential positive impact upon the local economy, with a minimum of negative offsets. In particular, the wages and benefits that will accrue to the region are substantial and fears of increased crime and pathological gambling problems, among other issues, are not supported by the data."

The study was conducted by Richard Parker, Ph.D., a professor with the School of Public Administration and Urban Studies at SDSU, and Kimberly Collins, director of the California Center for Border and Regional Economic Studies at SDSU-Imperial Valley Campus in Calexico. The study was commissioned by the Manzanita Band of the Kumeyaay Indians, which wants to develop the casino on Highway 111 or the Meadows Road corridor.

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The study was designed to measure the impacts of the proposed casino that's the subject of the Measure N ballot June 7. If passed, the ordinance would give the Calexico City Council the authority to negotiate an agreement with the Manzanita Band regarding the development and operation of an off-reservation casino in the city.

The casino will cost $175 million to construct and will consist of a 91,000-square-foot casino, a 130,000-square-foot retail and food/beverage section, a 50,000-square-foot banquet/meeting hall, a 10,000-square-foot entertainment venue and a 200-room hotel. The casino will have 2,000 slot machines and 45 gaming tables.

Parker explained to those gathered at the meeting that the report found 1,926 new jobs would be directly generated in Imperial County by the casino, with another 1,440 jobs being indirectly created by the project. The study found the casino would pump $111.5 million annually into the local economy in the form of direct and indirect economic benefits.

Nine hundred of the jobs directly generated by the casino would go to local residents, with the potential for 300 of these jobs going to Mexicali residents. Of the over $70 million payroll to be paid out yearly to casino employees, $50 million will be spent in the local economy. Fifty percent of the payroll paid to Mexicali residents is expected to remain in the local economy.

Parker noted the study found property values of land near the casino in Calexico and El Centro would increase 25 percent to 200 percent faster than the rest of Imperial County.

The study determined increases in crime and pathological gambling, issues which opponents of the casino project have rallied around, are unfounded and shouldn't affect public policy in regard to the development of a casino.

"These fears do have a certain theoretical logic that causes residents to frequently oppose the introduction of gambling into their communities; however, this theoretical logic fails to emerge as proven in the vast majority of studies that have been undertaken," states the report.

"The alleged relationship between casinos, especially Indian casinos, and street crime, along with problem gambling and organized crime, are fears that are not supported by facts. Crime is not an issue that should cause any significant rethinking of public policy as it applies to the development of an Indian casino in Calexico," continues the report.

The report also failed to find that senior citizens are more susceptible to pathological gambling, another fear casino opponents have rallied around.

"Most studies that have some statistical basis, in contrast to anecdotes, indicate that the majority of senior gamblers do not have more of a problem with compulsive gambling than does the general population," states the report.

Opponents of the casino project, which included members of the Friends and Neighbors Against Measure N coalition, were highly critical of the fact the Manzanita Band commissioned the study.

Arturo Selwick, owner of Selwick's department store in downtown Calexico, told Parker the public needed to hear more of the cons of the casino project because the study contained nothing but pros.

"Any issue that is this big … should have a pro and a con. Obviously, everyone of us here knows exactly where you come from and exactly who's paying you to address us. … If I only had your message, I'd go out and vote for it today," said Selwick.

"All of us realize we're getting a very slanted approach. … It's kind of offensive when we come in trying to get some balanced information and we receive propaganda," continued Selwick.

Mary Rangel-Ortega, a Friends and Neighbors Against Measure N organizer, criticized the report for dealing mainly with economic impacts while overlooking social impacts.

"Yours is strictly based on economic development. I did not see where you address the social costs that are extremely important in terms of the children. Where are they? You never even mention them," said Rangel-Ortega.

Parker defended himself and the study against the bias claims of casino opponents by pointing out the study did reference other studies that were negative of casinos. Parker noted these studies were ultimately outweighed by the preponderance of statistical information from other studies finding casino developments generally have positive impacts in their communities. Parker added there have been five instances in the past where he performed studies for clients who were unhappy with his findings because they ran counter to what they wanted to hear.

>> Staff Writer Michael A. Salorio can be reached at 357-7336 or michaelsalorio@yahoo.com

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