Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Dilemma in Our Town

We have a dilemma in our town. Basically, it is an issue of economic development on one hand and values on the other. Nothing is simple, is it? As my friend over at Gray Matters says in her blog title, Life is not Black and White.

Aa couple of weeks ago our county commission and chamber of commerce announced a major new development for our county--a "Branson, MO" type venture to be developed in phases that would include major resort hotels, music theatres and venues, restaurants, theme parks---and "charitable bingo". The developers claim Country Crossings will eventually bring 4800 jobs to the region plus millions of dollars for our economy.

We all know that our world is changing. We do indeed have a global economy, which means that many of our traditional jobs are being moved to other countries. Clothing manufacture, once ubiquitious in the South, is now virtually gone, and other industries are moving as well. Manufacturing in general is streamlining because of robotics and technology. Richard Florida wrote a well-researched book, The Rise of the Creative Class, in which he posits that because many industries will move overseas and because younger generations want more control over their work, the US economy will be centered around "creative" work, such a small businesses providing services--including hospitality. We could use 4800 jobs in our area, most of which would be creative and service. So, the possibility of thousands of people coming to our county to spend typical tourist dollars is intriguing. But for the bingo.

My mother plays bingo several times a week at her assisted-living facility. It provides socialization, a little mental stimulation, and the thrill of saying, "Bingo" and winning a little prize. What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.

A group of ministers and citizens has organized a very vocal opposition to the "charitable bingo" part of the Country Crossings development. They claim it will increase crime, wreck families, and introduce undesirable people and values to our community. As they understand it, this "charitable bingo" will be operated in its own building at the proposed development, with 1500 slot-type electronic machines. I have been to a couple of casinos over the years, and I didn't like them. I felt pretty nasty when I left. It was not fun to watch the people who were playing slot machines. From my perspective, they didn't have the resources to gamble, so I wondered what they were doing without to put nickels or dimes or quarters into those machines. I watched elderly people who might have been using their social security checks; I watched men who might have been gambling away the money designated for child support; I watched women who might have been using the grocery money. On the other hand, who am I to judge or to press my values on others?

I admit that I don't know much about this issue. I know that some in our community think this development, even with the bingo, is a good thing; and I know that others think it is a very bad thing. So, I've done a just a little research. I found an article about the charitable bingo business in a county in the north part of the state, Charity Bingo Goes Unregulated in Walker County. I could not link to this article, but if you google "charity bingo in Walker County" you will see that it has created much controversy. I read that electronic gaming, including charitable bingo, is big business in Canada, so I reviewed several articles about their gaming industry. One is Gambling on the Edge in Alberta. Another is What is the link between gambling and criminal activity?

After reading those articles and perusing a few others, I have come to few conclusions. Could the Country Crossing development be good for our region? Absolutely. Could the charitable bingo operation introduce increased crime and unsavory characters to our region? Absolutely. Can electronic bingo be closely regulated? Yes. Is there room for compromise? Maybe.

Bottom line---there are no easy answers, and I'm glad I don't have to make the decision. I hope and pray that those who do make the final decision will consider all views, will strive for compromise, and will try to do their very best for our region.


Tara said...

It will truly be interesting to see how all this works out. My guess is that the entire project will end up being scrapped because a compromise can't be reached. If this issue was being argued from a business and impact on the community standpoint no doubt a compromise could be reached. The fact that one side of the aisle is arguing from a "morally right" and religious viewpoint are going to make things much more complicated. The words compromise and religion do not go hand in hand.


Gray Matters said...

We've been going through something similar in Maryland dealing with slots at the racetracks and close to the airports. I'm with you - I'm glad I don't have to be the one making the final decision. I can see good and bad from both view points.