Fall River: A New ‘Boardwalk Empire?’

I hate playing the part of troubler of the public conscience but…

A couple of years ago, when Mayor Will Flanagan was first trying to lure a casino to Fall River, I wrote a piece in how detrimental it would be for the people of the city if the mayor had succeeded.

Two years later, my feelings haven’t changed.

Fortunately, Flanagan and the city failed, as I strongly believe a casino would have disastrous effects on Fall River: increase in crime, further decline in quality of life, and lack of sustainable jobs.

But now, Flanagan is once again trying to land a casino in the city with Foxwoods providing the fodder for the mayor’s second attempt.  This time around, he has a better shot to have citizens abandon their scratch tickets for gaming chips.

Given Fall River’s economic plight, any quick thought of a casino coming to the city seems like a good deal.  The casino’s initial impact I have no doubt would yield positive results.

For one, the city could receive annual revenue in the “tens of millions of dollars,” according to Flanagan in a recent Herald News article.  How would a cash-strapped city like ours pass that up?

The immediate problem of unemployment in Fall River would also be solved, at least in the short-term.  With an estimate of 3,000-5,000 potential jobs to be coveted, the ills of unemployment would be cured, if not temporarily.

But while the instant, short-term gains would be beneficial for the city, citizens and leaders need the foresight to see what a casino-environment holds in the long-term for Fall River.

The point most Fall Riverites miss when a shiny object like a casino is dangled in front of them is that casinos have shown to not provide a healthy environment when it comes to the local economy and quality of life, which the mayor has claimed is his priority during his third term.

While press conferences and public relation pieces are generating the hoopla of a casino coming to Fall River, two familiar words keep rolling in my head telling me this is a bad idea – Atlantic City.

Like Fall River, Atlantic City, New Jersey had its hey day back in the early 20th century with its famous boardwalk, but has been in a slow steady decline since.

Greater Atlantic City, as of October 2013 according to Forbes magazine, has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 13.8 percent.  This is a city that possesses not one casino, but eleven, which during the same time has seen five other casinos close, with the Atlantic Club recently closing last month.

People can make the argument that casinos are job creators, but what quality of life do casino jobs offer?  Are they lines of work that provide a sustainable income?

According to a USA Today article from June 2013, the arrival of casinos in Atlantic City in 1976 has not fixed deep-seated social problems that plague the city.  Gangs roam in low-income neighborhoods, and nearly 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

The most startling fact is the crime rate, where in 2011 the rate was 107.2 incidents per 1,000 residents.  Given Fall River’s demographics, a casino in the city would create such a statistic.

Even the casinos in Atlantic City could not stop the decline in population, which has been falling steadily since 1930.  Since 1976, when casino gambling was approved, Atlantic City’s population fell from 47,859 in 1970 to an estimated 39,504 in 2012.

Sound familiar?  Still feel like shooting craps on the waterfront?  This is no ‘Boardwalk Empire.’

With that said, I turn my gaze back at Fall River with tired, city-bred skepticism.

Stefani Koorey, when campaigning for mayor of Fall River in 2011, charged repeatedly that, “Fall River can do better.”  I use to believe that, but now I wonder.

Instead of our leaders forging ahead with vision followed by hard work and determination to get Fall River where it could be, they would rather choose the easy route placating to the lowest common denominator – with applause from their constituents.

Maybe a casino is the best the city can do.  After all, our community, instead of doing things right, chooses to do things right now that have only an appearance of being the right course of action.

Is there any gall to aspire to greater heights that’s grounded in reality and common sense in Fall River?  Apparently not.

Whether the city gets the casino or not, the fact is there isn’t a long-term vision/solution in place that makes me feel Fall River is heading in the direction it should be.

We’re gambling with a bad hand and need to fold, or we’re screwed.