Thursday, August 20, 2009

Golden Calf

I just read an article that reported promoters want to build another race track and casino in Des Moines, Iowa. Promoters are begging the state to grant them a license so they can make millions and millions, uh, I mean -- to allow the citizens of Iowa to reap the benefits of gambling. You know. All those millions of dollars that will be given to the government and charities and schools.

For some reason all I can think about is the Biblical account of the golden calf. I am not religious but the idea of people worshiping that golden calf while Moses was off getting the Ten Commandments seems fitting.

I remember when the original casino was built in Des Moines. It was not even a casino - it was a horse racing track. They called it Prairie Meadows. That was in 1989.

Within two years that facility was in bankruptcy. All the grand and glorious promises had fallen short. Way short. However, the promoters applied the philosophy of if you lose your billfold in the cattle yard, that is where you will find it. (Something my father always told my mother when he lost money on a bunch of cattle.)

So, in 1995 Prairie Meadows Race Track in Des Moines, Iowa, became the first facility in the country to allow horse betting and slot machines at the same time. The slot machines brought in a lot of money. A whole, whole lot.

So much money was made so fast with slot machines, that in 2004, gaming was permitted -- making Prairie Meadows a full fledged gambling casino.

Now, just 5 years later, so much money is rolling in that plans are in the works to build Prairie Meadows South. Oh, by the way, Iowa has about 20 other places where you can lose your money, uh, I mean, gamble.

As I see all this I am conflicted. Personally, I detest gambling and casinos. I had a really bad experience with football gambling when I was in my 20s and that cured me for life of ever wanting to gamble again.

Iowa is perhaps the most progressive state in terms of gambling -- though I know that is hard to believe. In the mid 1980s, the Iowa Lottery started with scratch tickets. It is still going strong. In fact, you may have heard of the PowerBall Lottery... it is in 30 states. Guess where that all started?!

Iowa jumped on the band wagon early on to promote riverboat gambling. Every time something new was proposed -- scratch tickets, horse racing, slot machines, gaming -- we were told our taxes would be reduced and lots of money would be given to schools and charities.

Guess what? My property taxes have gone up every year. I pay more in taxes to support schools. Sales tax has gone up in Iowa. And Iowa is about $3 billion in debt. Granted, Iowa is in better financial health than about 40 other states but that is still a lot of debt.

Personally I think it is really sad that Iowa and the country overall has become overrun with casinos and gambling. But, hey, guess what? Under Iowa the only public place in the entire state where you can legally smoke is in a casino.

You can't smoke in restaurants or public parks or on college campuses or any where -- but you CAN smoke in a casino. That sort of says it all, doesn't it?


Maureen said...

So let the smokers have their casinos, more fresh air for me.

Small City Scenes said...

Ditto what Maureen said!!

I don't care for gambling and it seems everywhere you turn out this way there is another casino. I've never been and there is no draw for me. All the large or should i say huge casinos belong to the Native Americans and they seem to be doing good things with some of the money they make. New schools and senior health centers and housing on the reservations. But other than that I don't know too much about it. MB

Boise Diva said...

When economic times are tough, gambling proposals are always trotted out as a "rescue." I've had fun on some trips to gambling cities, but it wasn't the gambling that made them fun. It was the entertainment!

Mean Mama said...

Are these casinos on Indian Land? We have casinos here in WA, but they are on Indian Reservations. The concept was that they would be state regulated. Which trust me they are heavily regulated. I was a security officer there and my daily reports were scrutinized. The income for the casinos MUST be used for social programs for the Native People. The tribe I worked for has built a huge community tribal center to rival any in any big city, Senior housing and center, day care center for Native families and the families of casino workers, boosts the businesses of tribal members,paid for a nice gas station and grocery store on the reservation, pays for healthcare for all tribal members including dental, and rehabilitation programs, landscaping for the highway cutting through the reservation, police and fire on the reservation, lobbiests to Olympia, and many of my Indian friends were able to go to college and get degrees while they worked there. (When I worked there I was in trade school, and my supervisor worked around my school schedule) In addition to that they have given scholarships to high-shcool students in the neighboring town (where I used to live)sponsored little league baseball and soccer clubs, and given money to police, fire and schools.

I wonder how in the world if the Native People who are trying and succeeding in the effort to better their people and communities in WA have to be so heavily regulated and watched, and the casino in your state can run so rampant, without giving back? That does not seem right at all.

Russell said...

Mean Mama,

In Iowa, there are two casinos owned by Native American tribes. These are officially known as Indian casinos.

As these casinos are on tribal land, there is not a great amount of public information available about them.

I have represented members of the tribe that owns one of them and I know that each man, woman and child receive a certain amount of money each month.

Unfortunately, a high percentage of the members who get these checks go back to the casino and lose it all or use the money to buy alcohol, etc. I hope I am wrong about this, but that was what I saw from the clients I represented (who were not the most responsible people in the world).

Take care.

Mean Mama said...

The tribe I worked for did not "dole out" cash to their members as the tribe you represented does. They feared that they would do exactly what you saw happen. Instead they paid for education, and put a lot of money toward social services. Like other scholarships they require that the students maintain a good grade point average. In order for the Indian folks to have a job at the casino they had to be enrolled at a college,attending GED classes, or own a business.

I think that using the money for social programs and bettering the community as a whole with better roads, drug and alcohol counseling, and improving people's lives through improving their environment is a much better way of using casino funds rather than just handing someone a check. My Indian friends would get really mad when people would ask them how much they got a month from their casino.

Also in our state all Indian casinos are required to give a certain amount of money to programs that help compulsive gamblers.

I think the tribe I worked for was really strict. I rarely saw Indian folks in the casino. One time I had to kick one of my friends out because he was drunk and rowdy. Some of the tribal members working the floor ordered me to remove him. I didn't want to because I knew it would make him really mad, but the people on the floor were disgusted with him because gamblers were leaving. Drunk people are just unreasonable, but I told him "Look, I work for you, and if I have to protect you from yourself I will." I think that struck him somewhere and he left without incident. The next time I saw him he said he was real sorry, and showed me his cup of pop. He never drank in the casino again. I was really proud of the folks I worked for. I thought they were great. They were really fair to me, and got me ahead in life. I think other Indian casinos should do what they are doing.

Hilary said...

So if the casino is the only place you can smoke in public, would that make it Iowa's biggest ash hole?

Sorry... couldn't resist. ;)

Country Girl said...

Hilary always amazes me with her quick and witty comments!

I have a dear friend who has worked in the casino business all his adult life. It has treated him well. He's now one of the top people at the biggest casino in Biloxi, MS and I am very proud of him. He works hard at his job.

Whenever we visit him, he likes to take us there. He wines and dines us and it's all good. But I never felt comfortable in any of the casinos. It's not my thing and it leaves me feeling empty and sad. I won't tell him this because he seems so happy doing this for a living.

Russell said...

Heh!! Very, very good....! Yes, I think many people would consider the casinos to be huge ash holes! Heh!

Seriously, I think casinos and race tracks have their place. They bill themselves as part of the entertainment industry and that is true. I have lots of friends and relatives who truly enjoy their time at the casinos.

And if people understand it they are just that -- entertainment -- and understand they will very likely pay for the entertainment and not come away with more money than they had when they went in -- that is fine.

I just feel sorry for the folks who think they can beat the odds and will actually make money in such places and keep trying and trying and trying until they are beyond broke.

But, sure, let's be honest. Casinos do provide lots of fun and entertainment and shows and that is good.

My whole attitude is tempered by a general negative outlook towards gambling and I have to remind myself of that.

Take care and I enjoyed all these comments!

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