I’m not a big fan of casinos. Often, they’re liminal spaces, like airport terminals and hospitals, places that feel inauthentic, frenetic, yet ubiquitous.
There aren’t any clocks on the walls. When you’re in a casino, you’re supposed to feel as if time is suspended. As long as you’re spending or winning money, the time of day shouldn’t matter, I suppose.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not morally opposed to casinos or gambling.
I enjoy a friendly game of poker, for example; it’s a game in which skill is typically more important than luck, at least over the long-term. But casinos don’t rake in big cuts from their poker tables. Casinos make their highest returns with slot machines, which is why slot machines are usually the first thing you’ll encounter when walking into a casino, rows and rows of glittering, screaming, neon machines.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard people suggest that a casino is the key to revitalizing Downtown Alexandria. We need a riverboat, or maybe we could turn the Hotel Bentley into a casino. Look at Shreveport, they’d say, or Baton Rouge or even New Orleans.
Of course, voters in Rapides Parish have previously determined they don’t want a casino, but that hasn’t stopped people from championing casinos as a panacea.
I’ve never bought into this theory.
There are two gargantuan casinos less than an hour away from Alexandria: Paragon in Marksville and Coushatta in Kinder. Both of these casinos have massive footprints; both even feature adjacent golf courses. They’re self-contained destinations, an easy drive for anyone in the Alexandria area who wants to gamble.
It is difficult if not impossible to envision how a competing casino could be developed in Downtown Alexandria.
But perhaps more importantly, there is little reason to believe that a single casino could catalyze widespread redevelopment. Marksville and Kinder are not exactly boom towns, and despite what some may suggest, Downtown Shreveport still suffers from large pockets of blight, vacancy, and disrepair.
The recent reemergence of Downtown Baton Rouge wasn’t propelled by its casinos. It’s primarily a result of former Governor Mike Foster’s decision to move state government offices downtown. More people work there.
And the casino in New Orleans… you could write a soap opera about it. Although I’m sure they exist, I’ve never met anyone who loves the City of New Orleans because it has a Harrah’s.
Without a doubt, casinos can generate massive profits (and tax revenues), but they shouldn’t be considered catalysts for revitalization.
Some people go a step further. Some argue that casinos, particularly those in struggling communities, can actually exacerbate problems, that they rely on those who are most financially vulnerable. If you don’t have anything, then you don’t have anything to lose, the adage goes.
Ideally, casinos are tourist destinations. Ideally, casinos attract outside dollars. They work well in cities with robust tourism.
And they work well in places like Lake Charles and Kinder because of their proximity to Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.
Either way, with the exception of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the casino, not the city, is the destination, and most casinos ensure that if you don’t want to leave, you won’t have to.
Again, it’s not that I oppose casinos or gambling; I just think it’s myopic to suggest that opening a casino in a place like Downtown Alexandria, which is surrounded by casinos all over the State, would be a real “game-changer.”
And even at the risk of sounding pollyannish, riverboats are cool, but the oft-repeated notion of turning the Hotel Bentley into a casino is not cool. Fortunately, it’s also completely impossible.