Bill Dwight: Nothing to celebrate in MGM’s proposed casino
NORTHAMPTON — The Gazette recently praised MGM’s proposed Springfield casino for being the last application standing in the region. Among the reasons the editorial held out as laudable were the promises of regional revitalization and job growth, especially for Springfield’s distressed economy.
Putting aside the more credible arguments challenging the validity of the claims and promises made by MGM’s heavily subsidized media campaign, the Gazette’s celebration overlooked the very real deleterious effects a resort casino would have on the cities and town that comprise the heart of its beat: Northampton, Easthampton and Amherst.
Almost all of the restaurants and entertainment businesses in these three communities are locally owned and managed. They survive on a thin, fragile margin that relies upon those very same customers the casino plans to woo. These businesses aren’t merely a supplement to the Valley’s vibrancy: they are its primary driver. Even the smallest drain of patrons will have a devastating effect on them and on us.
Our local businesses do not enjoy the state-sanctioned protection from competition that the billionaires at MGM would, yet their contribution to our economy and our identity is ultimately far more significant and essential.
A much greater portion of every dollar spent in locally owned restaurants and entertainment venues is cycled right back into our local economy. That would not occur with the monolithic Springfield casino. A substantial amount of those dollars would leave the state, never to return.
Casinos are specifically designed like bug lights to attract patrons and keep them within their campuses. There is no collateral benefit for any surrounding enterprise, which is why mitigation is part of the commonwealth’s permitting process. And the limited cash MGM would be obliged to pay would be a poor substitute for the loss of our community businesses and culture.
As for those promised 3,000 jobs, it is reasonable to assume that they will not do much to offset Springfield’s unemployment numbers. Those jobs will more likely go to people already employed by locally owned businesses, adding further insult to initial injury.
I think I speak for many of the people in our region when I say that we have been very fortunate to benefit from the investments made by our neighbors in the downtown businesses that inform our sense of place. In the future, I hope the Gazette and other media serving the Valley will devote more of their resources and attentions to a less sanguine review of the possible presence of a resort casino in our midst.
Bill Dwight is the president of the Northampton City Council.