Rolling Snake Eyes with Fall River’s Future

 

Casinos, ferries, and dinner trains,  I’m beginning to wonder if Fall River takes itself seriously at all. 

The recent idealism being generated from Government Center to revitalize Fall River is deficient of any wisdom and foresight.  This should raise concern in whether the “powers that be” are serious in reversing 90 years of steady decline in Fall River.  Granted, Fall River is in a “what do-we-have-to-lose” situation and I can’t fault anyone for trying, but the lofty dreams being proposed without any sound research and study could very well end up becoming nightmares for a city that needs to wake up fast. 

With everyone clamoring over the need for jobs, a sudden loss of common sense has taken hold.  The revival of the ancient and discarded idea of bringing a casino to Fall River is unsound in light of what might be in store for the city: higher crime rates, more destitution, and an increasing number of nip bottles by the curb.  Most people eager having a casino in Fall River overlook the current problems plaguing established casinos and the cities that house them.

Foxwoods, the largest casino in the western hemisphere, is in a dire situation with the casino over 2.3 billion dollars in debt.  This was a result of the Pequots, owners of the casino, misjudging the market, borrowing too much and expanding unwisely, according to a New York Times article from March 14th.  While Foxwoods is having its troubles, Atlantic City is faring much worse.

When gambling was legalized in 1976 in Atlantic City, it was to revive a slumping city that had been in decline for decades. This should sound familiar to anyone who has lived here. By the mid-1980’s, the city became the top tourist attraction on the east coast, due to the help of the casinos hosting sanctioned boxing title fights. 

That was then. 

Now, according to a Wall Street Journal story from March 13th, one casino (Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, formerly the Atlantic City Hilton) has changed its name three times within the last year in search of a new identity and new business as the city’s eleven casinos have been struggling for at least a few years.  Nineteen dollar hotel rooms and 25-cent gambling chips are now common practices the casinos use to lure new customers.

Atlantic City’s troubles in recent years have also been attributed to more casinos opening in surrounding states.  Life on the boardwalk was so dire that in 2010 New Jersey planned a takeover of the city and local government in order to reinvigorate the industry. 

Place a casino in Fall River and you might have a job, but for how long? 

The truth of the matter is the city needs to first fix the issues that are the building blocks of a successful city: public safety and education .  That said,  Mayor Flanagan’s proposals are not grounded in sound planning, and goes against what the evidence shows is happening in similar situations.

Simply placing a casino, dinner train, or ferry in Fall River is not going to bring people here if they don’t feel safe walking in public. Fall River is listed by Neighborhood Scout.com as one of the 100 most dangerous cities in the country (48th) and coupled with the rash of shootings and robberies of late and an understaffed police department, that stigma has no indication of changing for the better.      

If Mayor Flanagan is serious about Fall River, he first needs to address the real issues stalling the city.  A city with a strong education system conveys to people on the outside that the community is dedicated to itself for its future.  The “Scholarship City” has had its troubles recently with under performing schools, teachers being reassigned, and embattlement between teachers and the city school administration.  A city steadfast on education and keeping its citizens safe will appeal to businesses and people to come and locate here, not by dining on a train or working slot machines.

Fall River has to start thinking rationally and tackle the issues that are killing this city and preventing its growth, not be mired in delusion of itself.  Then with level heads explore ideas that are well researched and have the veracity to work and provide sustainable jobs.  What has been purported so far by Fall River’s establishment can only be interpreted as naive and fallacious. 

Instead of meekly uttering its motto “We’ll Try”, I like to see the city fulfill a new one and state with brimming confidence, “We’ll Succeed.”  In order to do that, we need to be serious…as serious as can be.

An Apocalyptic Gamble

Casino ZombieThe smell of ash permeates the air you breathe.  You search gasping for that patch of clean air, but there’s a wall of zombies in front of you barely moving and staring blankly ahead.  You try to call out to your friend, but the ambient noise is so loud your words are not heard.  Lights that could cause a seizure are so overbearing, you need to shield your eyes.  The feeling of being watched cannot be shaken away.  Is this the apocalypse?  Is it a scene in some Hollywood movie?  No, this is a casino.  This is the fate for Fall River if its leaders have their way.

The debate over established gaming in Fall River has heated up over the past year when Mayor Flanagan and members of the Fall River Office of Economic Development (FROED) decided to try pulling stakes on a state funded, industrial bio-park in favor of a casino to quickly generate jobs and revenue.  This is wrong as the bio-park is the correct solution to the city’s plight.  While any business opening has its positives, there are downsides in having a casino that the city cannot afford to gamble on.

First, what any business should bring is sustainable employment.  Most city leaders and proponents for a casino argue that it will create over 2,000 much needed jobs for Fall River.  While this might be true, there is something else to consider.  A casino would indeed create jobs, but is it work that can be called a career?  Car valet?  Card dealer?  Cocktail waitress?  Its work that you can barely make a living on (I can attest to this as I have worked as a valet).  The cost of living in Fall River is comparably low, but not low enough to park cars for a living and get by.  In contrast, a Herald News editorial states the bio-park would bring an estimated 8,000 new jobs and a $280 million annual payroll to Fall River.  Income earned by bio-park employees would stay in the city, where a casino would drain your income and what revenue is made would go into the pockets of the Wampanoag tribe, not toward the city.

Secondly, a business should bring a good environment to a city in terms of luring other businesses and people, whether it be relocating or commuting. A casino would do no such thing for Fall River.  People will only come here to gamble, that’s it.  Spend money on tourism?  What tourism?!  The city’s infrastructure resembles that of the Forbidden City in Beneath the Planet of the Apes.  One only has to look at what casinos offer to cities that house them like Atlantic City, NJ.  Beautiful, majestic hotels and casinos dot the boardwalk, but just across Atlantic Boulevard are pawn shops, seedy bars and decay.  Fall River has already met these criteria and can’t continue to slip in decline any further.  A bio-park, on the other hand, would reverse this and create an atmosphere where other similar businesses can build off of.  This would spur small public service businesses to open such as coffeehouses, gourmet eateries and shops to cater to that workforce.

One other situation to contemplate is the influence a casino would have on the health of citizens.  Most of these establishments allow smoking and when one walks through their doors, it’s like stepping into an ashtray with the stench of smoke seemingly emanating from everything.  Before long, the customers start to resemble their surroundings by sitting in front of  their slot machines like zombies, appearing ashen gray like the near one inch of ash holding on for dear life on the barely lit cigarette resting in their lifeless hands.  Does this sound like a healthy environment?  Hardly.

What Fall River needs is a solid plan for the future, not a disastrous short term fix.  Even some economic leaders have voiced their opposition to a casino as Robert A. Mellion of the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry asked, “Why are we discarding a state supported shovel ready economic development and job creating project for the remote possibility of capturing a casino license?”  The city leaders need to learn to fold on the issue, for they have a bad hand and not much in the pot to bet.  Besides, they would be avoiding a crisis of thieving, impoverished zombies in the city…or are they already here?