Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What to make of casinos as an "urban revitalization" method and detroyer?

Post columnist Petula Dvorak has a column today, "For a taste of Maryland's gambling future, try a weekend in Atlantic City," opining about how Atlantic City, New Jersey hasn't been revitalized by their attempt to re-make the Downtown core as Las Vegas East, and how this doesn't bode well for casino developments in Maryland.  Also see "Failed revitalization in Atlantic City and the continued culture of crime" from WHYY-Philadelphia and Newsworks.

I am not a big supporter of casinos as an urban revitalization initiative and I am not gonna do a bunch of research on the topic for this particular entry, but I do think that Dvorak overstates the case.
Casino towers dot the skyline of Atlantic City. (Mary Godleski/AP Photo, file)

The reality is what we might call the decentralization and commodification of gambling as an entertainment option, versus it being a special and concentrated offering and a special event vacation in Las Vegas, and then the additional question of Las Vegas vs. Atlantic City as preferred destinations.

Not to mention the reality that as access to gambling establishments becomes ubiquitous, it ceases to be supra-profitable or a destination differentiator, except in those places with the most population and income.  See "New Jersey Tries Different Gambling Forms as Casinos Falter" from the New York Times.

As much as I don't want to see a casino at Prince George's County's National Harbor development, in large part because that makes it a competitive destination compared to DC, the reality is that a few casinos sprinkled around Maryland aren't likely to be a big deal--except for the people who have gambling addictions.

The casinos in well-populated areas like Baltimore, Anne Arundel County (Maryland Live! is already the most successful Mid-Atlantic casino, with greater revenues than the biggest casinos in  Atlantic City, see this press release "Maryland Live! Casino Slot Revenue Tops Mid-Atlantic Gaming Market for March 2013"), and DC will do well enough.

The casinos in rural and exurban locations will not do all that well comparatively speaking, but will still garner business and contribute to local employment and tax revenue.  For example, Maryland Live! does almost six times more business than the Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Maryland, located off I-95 near enough to markets in Delaware and Pennsylvania (and 50% more business than the casino located outside Philadelphia).

Maryland Live! Casino Topping Off CeremonyRight: Maryland Live! topping off ceremony featuring various public officials.  Maryland State Government photo.

They won't really generate a lot of development, because gaming as an entertainment attraction has for big segments of the population, become more of a day or weekend trip, rather than a special event vacation.

Maryland economic development officials will have to deal with this though, as casinos in Western Maryland and Perryville aren't likely to live up to expectations in terms of their ability to be augurs of local improvement.

With regard to that "special event vacation," the agglomeration benefits that Las Vegas has as the nation's premier vacation destination for gambling, and how that city continues to strengthen this position makes it very difficult for Atlantic City to develop its own unique and desirable position as a counter-destination to Las Vegas, especially compared to other "East Coast" destinations like the Bahamas (even Bermuda mulls over legalizing gambling for visitors--in the Bahamas, gambling is legal only for visitors, not residents).

Table Master at Maryland Live! CasinoConcerning the impact on DC of a casino at National Harbor, the reality is that people visiting the DC region for vacation or business have only so much money and time, and the impact of access to a casino on the border will shift some events (including conferences), rooming nights, etc., but overall is just another element of the competition that DC's tourism planners will have to both consider and respond.

Left: SHFL Entertainment photo of a gaming area at Maryland Live!

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At 6:47 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

The problem with casinos and urban revitalization is you're attracting low income consumers who are mostly interested in free drinks and quarters.

(rather like walmat, really).

So a little bit of tax benefit, very little other spending, and what else? A bit of branding?

If you wanted urban revitalization look at legalizing dope and/or escort girls. Both would get more bang for your buck.

Or cigar bars...

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

cigar bars don't seem to last all that long, at least ones targeting the non-super rich.

At 8:51 PM, Blogger kob said...

Good post. This is a negative for DC.

I'm worried that the National Harbor casino will renew the push to bring online gaming to DC. The last proposal would have created mini-casinos in the city, gaming venues, where people could gamble electronically.

The National Harbor casino will be almost Metro accessible. I'm sure the bus transportation from the Metro stop will improve to encourage use. It's going to send a lot of discretionary dollars, locally, into Maryland. It's lost money.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger adelphi_sky said...

I think what some people fail to realize is that the proposed casino at National Harbor will only be a part of the bigger project which will be a resort/hotel with a number of shops and restaurants. Currently, no other casino in Maryland offers this. Maryland LIve! has two very good restaurants in Prime Rib and Cheesecake Factory. They have no retail except being attached to an outlet mall. What MGM is proposing includes non-outlet retail, restaurants from world-renown chefs, two entertainment venues, and a resort/hotel. This for me makes the casino at NH less of a casino parlor and more of an option for those visiting the DC area. Can you imagine the heads of state and dignitaries visiting MGM? I agree that a Hollywood casino like the one in Perryville wouldn't do much for the county. But MGM has changed the game. And I'm not so sure the county is hinging its revitalization hopes on the casino when so many other projects around the county are just as important such as luring the FBI.

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