Thursday, April 13, 2006

A House of Cards

Just pretend, for a moment, that you are looking to buy a house. One day, a realtor who you don't know much about, approaches you and makes you the following offer: He'll sell you a great house because the company he works for sells nothing but great houses. He shows pictures of other houses other companies like his have built, and tells you that although his company has never built a home like any of these, that this is type of house he wants to sell you.... pending a thorough investigation of your credit history and income. All you need to do is sign a contact, and the house will be yours (at very favorable terms!).

Now, when you ask what what interest rate you'll be paying, the salesman says that more investigation has be done before he can answer that question. When you ask whether or not the home will be built on a slab, crawl space, or basement, once again, the salesman says he's not sure... sign the contract, and he'll get you that information, and more, as soon as possible. Pretty soon it's clear that all of your specific questions (What's the square footage? Will it come with appliances and/or window treatments? Where will it be located? Will the exterior be painted, brick, or vinyl? etc...) aren't getting any straight answers. Just a promise that the house will be great, and will rise in value.

"Just sign the contract, and we'll work out all the details later." he says. "Trust me."

In the immortal words of Howie Mandel, "Deal, or no deal?"

Well, this is the position in which the Lima community sits as it tries to decide whether or not to invite a casino into it's midst. For I can safely say after tonight's meeting, the only fiscal data you're going to get out of the Eastern Shawnee and their attorney, Tom Casey is:
  • Allen County's unemployment rate is 6.6%, which is above the state average
  • Ohio was 44th in the country in new jobs creation in 2004
  • 13 billion dollars goes across our borders into casinos in neighboring states
  • The Eastern Shawnee intend to invest 300-400 million dollars in this project
  • This project will create "thousands" of good jobs, above minimum wage, with benefits.
  • The Tribe intends to give the municipalities 2% of it's revenue, although it is not obligated to do so, because it wants to be a good member of the community

I mean, you'd be an idiot not to support this, right? This data overwhelmingly favors building a casino. Only "religious fanatics" would oppose something so breathtakingly beneficial to the Lima area.

Well, here's what you won't hear...

  • A projection of just how much revenue the Eastern Shawnee expect to generate (Tom Casey: There needs to be a marketing study conducted to determine this
  • A breakdown of how many jobs will be full time with benefits, and part-time (Tom Casey: Marketing Study)
  • An actual drawing of the casino itself (Tom Casey: Marketing study will determine size of the casino, and thus the architect's drawings)
  • A projection of where people will come from to go to the casino, and the other services they'll demand once here (Tom Casey: marketing study to determine)
  • What other amenities and services will be constructed to help create this "Destination Resort" (we saw a picture of cool indoor waterpark, but were told by Tom Casey that we couldn't assume we'd get one until, yeah - you got it - a marketing study was conducted)
  • An educated guess as to the total economic impact on the community (Tom Casey: My dog knows. He can talk on evenings when there is a full moon, so I'll ask him then.)

Ok, I made that last "Tom Casey" response up, but absolutely no specific data to any pointed questions was shared tonight. And as a result, people with an ax to grind used the remainder of the 90 minute meeting to let all the elected officials in the room know how much they didn't want this project in their backyard, and that gambling is a sin. It was, basically, a waste of time.

It made me so angry, that I decided to put Tom Casey on the spot (knowing full well that any question I had, like, what percentage of this capital for the creation of the casino will come from the Tribe and from private investors... and where do those investors live, wouldn't get a straight answer). Here's my recollection of the exchange:

Me: Mr. Casey, based on the fact that the Tribe is in negotiation with Massilion about locating a casino there, and the Tribe has no history in Massilion, as evidenced by the fact that the city isn't one of the entities named in it's land rights lawsuit, it's apparent to me that the Tribe would be happy to locate this casino pretty much anywhere in Ohio. Given the fact that our unemployment rate in Allen County is so high, and the whole point of this venture is to make a profit, why not enter into discussions with municipalities in regions of the state are doing well financially, like Dublin, West Chester-Lakota, Ottawa Hills, and Mentor? Wouldn't the tribe do better financially in a more affluent region?

Tom Casey: Well, we like Lima because of its accessibility. People are more likely to stay away in a part of the state that's more congested.

Me: Sir, over 100,000 people get into, and out of Ohio Stadium in Columbus, with little or no trouble 7 times a year. I find it hard to believe that Columbus suffers from being inaccessible.

Tom Casey: Well, we think Lima has a lot going for it economically....

Me (cutting him off): Sir, in my opinion, the Tribe is playing on the economic fear among people in this community that they will not have a job, and their children will not live here because of a scarcity of jobs. You are doing this because you know that people living in more desirable locations won't give you the time of day, and we have no choice but to open our door to you.

Tom Casey: (laughing) Well, you've addressed five or six different issues that I don't possibly have time to address. We want to be here because of the historical connection that the Tribe has to the area.

And that's it. Except that the crowd murmured loudly when I pointed out that affluent areas of the state aren't being approached about this, and "here, here'd" after I said that the casino's main tactic was using our fear against us.

Later, one of the developers (not a member of the tribe) from Canton (who also told another member of the clergy that he should want a casino so it could breed problems that the clergy could help people with.... that's a great statement to win over a room!) addressed my question by stating that the Tribe's niche was operating "destination centers" in rural areas, not large downtown casinos (like the MGM Grand in Detroit).

Of course, when that developer was asked if, hypothetically, the Tribe would turn down an offer from the City Council of Columbus to build a casino next to the Ohio Center because it "wasn't their niche", he laughed and said he didn't answer hypotheticals.

Didn't exactly make him look forthcoming or truthful.... greedy maybe, but not forthcoming or truthful.

So, that's where we are. A place where no more dialogue can really take place because the people with all data claim to have none, no local entity with political or economic development responsibility will conduct their own study of the Shawnee's claims, the believers have swallowed the hype (either because they figure this is best Lima is going to do OR because they are libertarians who don't want anything to be illegal), and those opposed can't make any other argument other than a moral one.

A place where we are being asked to buy a house we haven't seen, don't know the location of, aren't clear on any financial details of sale, or have any clear picture if the value of the house will rise or fall.

"It's a great house.... just sign the contract."

No deal.

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