Facing a dismal economic outlook, local officials across the state are desperate for workable solutions that will bring back jobs to their struggling communities. Voters in Romulus will decide on Dec. 2 whether to allow the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians to follow through with its proposal to build and operate a casino and racetrack in the area. On paper, such initiatives promise economic rewards for not only the community, but also the Native American population operating the casinos. Yet the voters of Romulus should be wary, as gambling offers only the illusion of economic growth. Lawmakers and citizens should instead focus on addressing the lack of comprehensive economic and social reform that has left communities like Romulus and the state’s Native American populations in deep recession.
Gambling was legalized in 1996 in the city of Detroit. Proponents argued that this would help turn the economic situation in the city around by lowering unemployment, providing the city with desperately needed funding and increasing tourism to the area. Thus far, there have been some decidedly positive results stemming from this decision, most notably the nearly $200 million the casinos provide each year to city and state budgets via gaming taxes. However, after analyzing the broader picture, the results are decidedly mixed. The Detroit casinos have thus far failed to significantly impact the city’s unemployment rate, and haven’t generated any semblance of a tourism boom. Other cities across the country have had similar experiences with gambling. It seems apparent that based on Detroit’s experiences, the legalization of gaming represents a half-hearted effort to address the overwhelming problems facing Americans. Lawmakers often view gambling as a quick fix. But the undeniable short- term advantages the gaming industry offers are no substitute for real economic reform.
The same holds true for the Native American populations that would run the proposed casino and racetrack. Modern reservations are plagued by a multitude of social and health-related problems and 31.2 percent of Native Americans in the United States are currently living below the poverty line. The proliferation of government-sanctioned casinos and gaming facilities on and off Indian reservations, while acting as a modest source of income for these impoverished tribes, has only functioned to treat the symptoms, not the cause of an insidious social and economic disease.
While private enterprise has often been the golden solution to American social and economic difficulties, the gaming industry offers no such promise to the citizens of Romulus. Although the legalization of gambling may seem like a lucrative solution, its benefits are relatively narrow in scope. Communities should be actively seeking real solutions to their fiscal problems – not the illusion of growth that the gaming industry offers up.