If used right, gambling revenues could boost community's future

The impact of a prospective casino on Terre Haute and Vigo County could be maximized if the tax revenue is used to strengthen the community's future.

Mayor Duke Bennett on Thursday extolled the potential financial boosts to local government if a new casino is built in this community. The level of such a tax-revenue infusion to city and county government coffers varies from one host town to the next. Some exceed expectations. Others fall short.

Terre Haute could possibly become a casino site if the Indiana General Assembly permits a casino to be moved here from Gary, or allows the operators of the casino in Rising Sun to create a spinoff casino in Terre Haute. When Full House Resorts unsuccessfully attempted that same Terre Haute spin-off casino in 2017, the Las Vegas-based company projected the facility would generate $26 million annually in new taxes, including $10 million directly to the city and county.

Whatever the actual total tax revenue would be from either possible casino, any new source of tax revenue would allow the city to invest in quality-of-life assets. That is the wise destination for such funds. Casinos, like any business, have a shelf life. It could operate for several decades or a shorter span. Revenue could fluctuate. Given that uncertainty, casino revenue should go toward community improvement projects and infrastructure, rather than directing funds that may not be sustainable to other long-term expenses.

During Thursday's annual Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce city update breakfast, the mayor said tax proceeds to the city from any casino would go toward riverfront development, a community aquatic center to replace the Deming Park and YMCA pools or a sports facility.

The city "will never have another opportunity to do anything like this without these revenues," Bennett said. "That's where we're going to be able to make a difference and change Terre Haute."

The impact of casinos on a host community's private-sector economy and job market remains a subject of debate. A casino would create hundreds of jobs and wages in the low to mid $30,000 range, according to the 2017 Full House proposal for Terre Haute. Those employees would spend money at other local businesses. Still, economists point out those employees typically leave other local employers to work at the casino, so that shift "cannibalizes" the jobs. On the other hand, a casino involves a private investment of more than $100 million and construction involves hundreds of jobs. Once that work is done and the facility is operating, communities must prepare for increased gambling addictions.

So, there are pluses and minuses. The community would have to weigh those in a referendum on the casino, according to the casino bill proposed by Sen. Jon Ford of Terre Haute. Should the idea gain approval from Terre Haute residents and the Indiana Legislature, a casino could turn out to be a positive for the community, overall, if it prepares well.

Terre Haute would need to view a casino as one significant component of its tourist attractions, but continually support and invest in its others. Businesses should be honestly apprised of a casino's potential impact on their traffic. Enhanced treatment programs for gambling addictions should already be in place when the facility opens. The better educated the community is about a casino, the better the odds are that the population will generally benefit from its presence.

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