John Hollis: Casino plan too costly a jackpot
Someday, in the who-knows-when future, Yuba County will have a casino and hotel. The project has been going on for years, and it'll be years before any ground is broken and even more years before gamblers can start dropping their cash into those very-tempting slot machines and gaming tables.
Whenever that day comes, many people are sure it's going to be wonderful. They're certain that gambling Mecca will bring jobs and riches.
It's that tempting prize at the end of the rainbow that has both Yuba County and Marysville waiting to hit the big jackpot that will make everything wonderful for the cash-strapped county and city — no matter the cost.
To be sure, there are some positive aspects of the agreements between the county, city and the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe Enterprise Rancheria.
In December 2002, the supervisors signed a memorandum of understanding that will hand the county:
a) $697,120 "as an initial, one-time payment to be paid before commencement of construction …"
b) $13,400,000 over six years "in lieu of taxes."
c) Followed by continuing payments of at least $5,000,000 "in lieu of taxes."
These payments won't start until gaming starts — whenever that is.
In August 2005 the city signed a Memorandum of Agreement that will hand the city:
a) $100,000 within 45 days of the tribe receiving final approval to begin their gaming operations.
b) Recurring contributions of $250,000 for the first two years, after which the payments will increase by 4 percent over the next 13 years for total of more than $4.8 million. This money won't start until gaming starts — whenever that is.
There are other positives as well: The construction jobs as well as the long-term jobs needed to keep the casino and hotel running.
That all sounds great, but have we asked ourselves: Is it worth the cost?
Some people have said jobs trump everything. Isn't that like saying: Let's build a bar on every corner because that will provide lots of jobs for bartenders and waitresses while ignoring all the problems associated with bars and drunks?
In a recent letter to the editor in the Appeal-Democrat, Enterprise Rancheria community relations spokesman Charles Altekruse wrote, "'Crime, alcoholism, broken homes' — Hello! They're already here!" Going back to my bar simile — does he mean that since we already have lots of drunks, what does it matter if we make it even easier for them to drink?
What does Enterprise Rancheria promise to do to help problem gamblers? They promise they'll make a contribution of no less than $60,000 a year to a Yuba County organization to treat and prevent pathological gambling disorders. I wonder how much good that will do because that amount is just about enough to pay for a single new person to treat everyone with a gambling problem.
In an August 2010 Christian Science Monitor article, the author wrote that a National Gambling Impact Study Commission 1999 study calculated that gambling costs society about $1,200 per adult in social costs (bankruptcies, divorces, etc.) and that about 2.5 percent of American adults were problem gamblers.
That means that with a combined population of around 173,000 people, Yuba and Sutter counties have about 3,460 addicted gamblers. The works out to roughly $4 million a year in social costs — and the tribe is going to donate $60,000?
Enterprise Rancheria also promises it won't cash any government checks (Social Security, unemployment insurance, disability or public assistance payment). Big deal. First, no one gets a government check anymore and second, all a gambler has to do is walk a few steps to an ATM for more cash to feed that insatiable slot machine.
Then there is the question of public support. As most everyone knows, in 2005 Yuba County voted 52 percent against the project. An advisory measure Enterprise Rancheria promised to abide by. Things aren't improving. A 2011 survey, conducted by Jim Moore Methods, found that 69 percent of Yuba County voters oppose building off-reservation casinos altogether and 73 percent feel that tribes should get permission from the voters before moving forward with such projects. The poll also found that 63 percent of Yuba County voters specifically opposed the Enterprise Rancheria casino while only 32 percent support it.
What's it going to cost Yuba County? Will those promised payments be enough to pay for all the necessary infrastructure improvements (roads, water, sewer, etc.) as well as additional Sheriff's Department assets that will be needed for the extra traffic problems and law enforcement issues?
Another thing, who really believes all those 1,900-expected construction jobs and 1,200 ongoing positions (the numbers originally used) will go to Yuba County workers?
A quick aside: Last October, Marysville sent a letter of support to the governor which stated that the casino would bring 4,000-plus jobs to the area while the Environmental Impact Statement found the casino would produce 4,300 jobs. Where'd the extra 1,200 jobs come from?
Even though Marysville will receive a few million dollars and Yuba County a lot more, should we go ahead with a project whose sole function is to take money out of a person's pocket while leaving too many families broken and in debt?
Combine that with slipping public support, the extra strain on the Sheriff's Department, extra strain on infrastructure and millions in social costs every year — is having a casino in Yuba County really what we need just for a bump in employment?
John Hollis is a photo journalist who writes occasionally for the Appeal-Democrat.