Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Perdido Key Disaster

For the second time in two days, we read that gambling venues are multiplying in Pensacola.

First, Escambia County commissioners approved setting up poker rooms at the dog track. It's just to keep the jobs, don'cha know.

Now, a Texas developer has announced he's partnered with the "Perdido Bay Tribe of Lower Muscogee Creek Indians" to build "a first-class bingo facility and resort" exceeding anything from here to Biloxi.

"Perdido Key Tribe of Lower Muscogee Indians?" Who knew?

If they haven't already, you can be sure enterprising local developers will soon stumble across descendants of a hitherto unknown knot of Native Americans, probably to be called something like the "Sabine Bay Band of West Santa Rosa Island Apalachicola" Indians. Frightened away by Tristan de Luna's expedition, it may be explained, they fled their native homeland, which we now call Pensacola Beach, before a lawful treaty could be negotiated.

"Compensation must be paid!" will be the scream. "How about a casino boat off Quietwater Pier?" will be the settlement proposal.

We don't want to be a Cassandra, but though our Indian story is fanciful it sure looks inevitable that Pensacola Beach residents will soon, again, be facing a referendum on legalizing casino gambling in Escambia County. Over the past decade we've seen at least two of those on ballots that we can remember, and the state narrowly missed a third.

Expect a new, well-financed campaign to authorize casino gambling in barrier island communities like Pensacola Beach. Greed will be the driving force, of course. It always is. But fear of another Great Depression will be the public argument pushed by gambling proponents.

Such is the history of gambling in America. As a California revenue department study observed a few years ago:
The great depression led to a much greater legalization of gambling. The antigambling mood changed as tremendous financial distress gripped the country, especially after the stock market crash of 1929. Legalized gambling was looked upon as a way to stimulate the economy.
Indeed, Las Vegas practically owes its existence to the Great Depression. As Thomas Barker and Marjie Britz wrote in their book Jokers Wild: Legalized Gambling in the Twenty-first Century
(Praeger 2000) --

In 1931 the Nevada legislature, reacting to the effects of the Great Depression and the decline in the price of silver, passed two revenue-generating devices.*** Gambling proponents argued that the taxes would bring in sorely needed revenue and reduce property taxes. *** The "Wide Open Gambling Law" started the modern era of legalized gambling in the United States.
Personally, our objections to gambling on Pensacola Beach have nothing to do with religion or morality. It wouldn't matter if they did. Along with the excesses of Wall Street and consumerism run wild, the past twenty years have seen such a proliferation of government sponsored lotteries and other forms of legalized gambling -- from bingo halls and race tracks to on-line gambling and casinos -- that most folk don't have far to walk to find some place to throw away their money.

Our objections are rooted mostly in concerns about maintaining the environmental sustainability of our fragile island paradise, the heightened risk of public official corruption that inevitably follows legalized gambling, the certainty that desperate poor people will become even more vulnerable to exploitation, and the increased vulgarization of American culture.

Widespread gambling inevitably cheapens an entire community. If you doubt it, visit Atlantic City. Or, Perdido Key in a couple of years.

As for Pensacola Beach, open gambling and the tourist theme of a "family friendly beach" are wholly incompatible. But that won't stop certain interests from arguing otherwise as the local economy deteriorates and more shops, restaurants, and businesses close.

Beach residents need to begin organizing, now, to have any hope of avoiding the same kind of disaster that is about to befall Perdido Key.


Anonymous said...

I hear that there are more bingo casino's planned by this group from Dallas, including one downtown and one at Pensacola Beach. The county is rubber stamping it!

Anonymous said...

That's a shame, and in the end your quiet town will stay quiet and with our weakened economy and lack of jobs, You'll be kicking yourselves because the jobs were coming to you. Open your eyes!

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

its family friendly if your white.......tell the truth and shame the devil