You Got Trouble

Casinos are instruments of the devil, trouble with a capital T — according to all I've heard and read.

Well, my friends, I've been reading the news / And listening to the views / And either you're closing your eyes / To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge / Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated / By the building of a casino right here in Cleveland ...

You got trouble, my friends, right here / I say, trouble in Crooked River City / Trouble with a capital T / And that rhymes with G, and that stands for ...

Well, my apologies for rambling like Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. But I become alarmed, it seems, every time I look at a front page or a website or watch a TV newscast or turn on my radio.

This gambling, I'm now certain, is going to be the damnation, or the ruination, or at least the consternation, of our fair city.

They're building the Horseshoe Casino in the Higbee Building, for goodness' sake — right where young boys once sat on Santa's lap and asked for a Red Ryder Air Rifle and were warned, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"

Well, gambling's just as dangerous, according to all I've heard and read. Here are all the instruments of the devil leading our wicked parade:

1. Some folks will get addicted to gambling — especially slot machines, weapons of mind destruction that mesmerize us into stuffing more and more quarters into them.

True. So let's get rid of everything we can't help wasting our hard-earned cash on, even though we know no good will ever come of it — starting with the Browns.

2. They're going to tear down the 100-year-old Columbia Building, empty of people but full of history, to make way for valet parking.

Lord knows, old vacant buildings are already an endangered species in downtown Cleveland! However can we afford to lose another one?

3. A proposed skywalk will partially obstruct the view in downtown Cleveland.

The view? I can imagine this future conversation with a disappointed tourist: "I came to Cleveland for the view." "What view? We're in Cleveland." "I was misinformed ... "

4. In a four-part series, The Plain Dealer warned us that casinos use "sensory immersion" — pulsating music, lights and videos — to send players into sort of a trance, keeping them transfixed on the slots for hours.

Maybe newspapers should try something like this on their readers.

5. Casinos have led to a spike in crime in some cities.

However, law enforcement officials in Detroit say this hasn't happened there. So let's strike this one off the danger list. It should be comforting to know that Cleveland will be as safe as downtown Detroit.

6. Casinos may spell the end of B-I-N-G-O.

Cleveland without bingo is like Cleveland without polkas or pierogies. That's our identity. How will we know who we are?

7. Casinos lead to $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffets.

Considering our region's already bountiful collective waistline, imagine the dangers: thousands of Clevelanders exploding like the diner in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Ewwww!

8. Casinos lead to the corruption of politicians as fast as you can say Jack Abramoff. And there's no room for corrupt politicians in Cleveland.

Literally. There is no room. The jail cells are already full of them.

OK, you surely realize I'm being facetious. A casino won't wreck downtown Cleveland. The Euclid Corridor has taken care of that. Who knows how to drive on that thing?

I have no personal interest in gambling, but there is no need to fear the invasion of blackjack, roulette wheels and craps tables. They are inevitable, especially now that our governor has persuaded the rich folks building the casino to pay more taxes. (Hmm, I wonder if he might try that tactic in other sectors of our troubled economy.)

And fortunately, we have our own Professor Hill — Edward W. (Ned) Hill — who hasn't been conned by these tales of gambling doom and destruction.

Hill, the dean of the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, has studied the impact on gambling on other cities. He sees no cause for alarm here, "as long as we get expectations under control," he says, "and think like an adult."

A casino in Cleveland is not going to draw busloads of out-of-state old ladies to our downtown. "With the exception of Las Vegas, and possibly Atlantic City," he says, "casinos don't attract much tourist business from outside."

We're already surrounded by casinos in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. So we're going to have to depend on the old ladies from our own suburbs to boost the downtown economy.

Which isn't a bad thing. "It will create low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs in an area where they are needed," Professor Hill says.

His greatest concern is the temptation to believe that the Horseshoe Casino itself will provide a quick fix for downtown.

"The challenge," he says, "is what comes next." Cleveland must build a downtown that is a "24-7, live-work destination," he says. "You don't build healthy cities on the backs of drunks. Drunks and bad behavior kill cities."

We sure proved that theory with the Flats, huh?

I feel certain that our leaders won't make the same mistakes again. In fact, Mayor Frank Jackson already made it clear he's wary of this new revenue stream.

"Money brings trouble," he told City Council's Finance Committee during a hearing on the casino.

Ohh-kay! But I think the mayor means trouble in Crooked River City with a small t. The kind of trouble we're content to deal with.

Despite all the media hype — handwringing and hoopla — it's going to take a lot more than a casino to make much of a difference, good or bad, in our downtown.

So enough reports about the evils of gambling. But for those of you who believe the Horseshoe will save this fair city, I've got 76 trombones I'd like to sell you.

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