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Report Bets on Good Future for Richmond Tribal Casino

CONTRA COSTA TIMES

Posted on Thu, Jul. 31, 2003

A gambling casino could generate revenues in the millions, jobs in the thousands, and new businesses by the score, says a $100,000 feasibility study the City Council commissioned earlier this year.

The council discussed the report only briefly Tuesday, its last meeting until September.

The Colorado-based Innovations Group, a subsidiary of the politically connected Los Angeles law firm Latham and Watkins, touted four sites as ideal for a gaming enterprise: Port Terminal No. 3, Point Molate, the former Zeneca site, or an unnamed parcel off the Richmond Parkway. The first three offer access to Interstate 580, BART and possible ferry service across the Bay.

The Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians pitched a casino, with slot machines and banked card games, for the Port Terminal No. 3 last year. Mayor Irma Anderson appointed an ad hoc committee to study the idea, including council members Nat Bates, Richard Griffin, Mindell Penn and Jim Rogers.

The report sees a promising future for Richmond with a casino.

The authors determined that the average household income on a 75-mile ring around Richmond is $92,547 -- $105,745 in a ring 25 to 50 miles from the city -- enough to cultivate sport and leisure activities, including gaming.

That, combined with an aging population and a desperate need for employment within the city, makes the casino a wise bet, the consultants say.

With 10 percent of the 53,000-person labor force having been unemployed for any given month during the past year, "it could be expected that a significant number of those who are capable of holding a job would be able to find work as a result of the casino operations."

The report predicts an "annual economic impact" of more than $500 million, with 4,462 local jobs. Although the casino would be considered a sovereign nation, the report predicts city sales-tax revenue of $1.9 million annually.

"I'm disappointed," said Councilman Tom Butt. "It basically just says, 'If you build it in the following scenario, it will generate all this money.' But how much will go to Richmond? How many jobs will go to Richmond residents, and how many residents will they consider employable? Could they be made to honor our living wage requirement? We paid $100,000 and there isn't $10 of information in there. Now we've got to spend more money and more staff time to find the answers to our questions."

Among the authors' assumptions:

 The competing "Lytton Rancheria project will not come to fruition ... However, if it does ... it would not likely negatively impact the Richmond casino's gaming revenues," due to an imbalance between supply and demand.

 Gov. Gray Davis has refused to grant compacts for tribal casinos in urban areas. Yet, "he may fail to find a legal challenge and be forced to negotiate."

 As the state budget deficit grows, the governor may be increasingly willing to permit, then tap, casinos as a revenue source.

The report does not address social impacts on Richmond directly, but it offers conclusions from other areas that have casinos.

It cites a study by the University of Chicago that shows unemployment declining by 4 to 8 percent in Atlantic City, Shreveport and the Mississippi Gulf Coast after the introduction of casinos or riverboat gambling. Bankruptcies rose by 1 percent, and welfare rolls shrank.

Casino profits have funded a nursing home, social services, and health programs for pregnant women and families with disabled children in Connecticut and Wisconsin. A tribe in South San Joaquin Valley paid the $400,000 cost for two new fire trucks and donated $100,000 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

As for crime, "myths and images of the mafia-oriented violent crimes have regaled the American landscape since casinos first opened in Las Vegas," the consultants say. "However, research on criminal behavior has failed to prove a link between criminal activity and casino-style gaming."

Although the report minimizes the downsides, its authors allow that often people move away when a casino comes to town, many citing "the desire not to live in a community with gaming."

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