You know that beloved historic department store in Cleveland, the one featured in the film " A Christmas Story"? It's called Higbee's. Ohio's first casino opened in there less than a year ago, and it's a haunting space, filled with dissonant chords.
In Next City, I wrote about the huge rise of cities
betting on casinos to revive downtowns and replace depleted public
funding... even as traditional gambling centers like Atlantic City start
to move on. Ten years ago, 11 states allowed commercial gaming in land-based,
riverboat or racetrack casinos. Now, 24 do. (A dozen additional states
host Native American casinos.)
The article is part of the Forefront series at Next City, which, as it creates space for urban journalism, is definitely worth subscribing to. Articles can be purchased individually for a tiny amount; some features are free. But otherwise, here is an accessible excerpt of the casino piece. And below, from my opening:
I met Joe at the bar, where he was enjoying a drink and watching college football. Joe, a pipefitter and native Clevelander, wasn’t here to gamble. A white-bearded man in an Indians hat and wearing two fleeces, one over the other, he doesn’t think much of gambling. But he’s here to accompany his wife, who likes the games but refuses to venture downtown from their suburban home without him.
It’s not hard to understand why. One out of every three Clevelanders lives in poverty, a human suffering visible in a downtown scarred by once-gracious vacant buildings. Many sidewalks built with optimistically broad widths appear untouched, especially at night. Cleveland has registered on “most dangerous city” lists with disquieting frequency. Fair or not, downtown carries a lot of the baggage.
Nevertheless, the casino was bustling with patrons on a recent chilled weekend, a hearth in center city. “They’re trying to bring people back,” Joe — who declined to give his last name — told me. “And you could sort of see how it could work.”
It used to be that casinos made a destination out of a rare few cities: Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno. That is changing as states and cities grow hungry for new sources of revenue to plug budget holes. ... As states approve gaming, it’s often the large and mid-size cities that hurry to make casinos feel at home. Pennsylvania, for instance, has 10 casinos, with three concentrated in the Philadelphia region; the city itself is the only locality with approval for a second facility. All three non-Indian casinos in Michigan are in Detroit, two of them practically within a baseball’s throw from each other. There’s enough activity in the Detroit casinos to make it the fourth largest casino market in the country, generating $1.4 billion in revenue.
The casino where I met Joe is Ohio’s first full-service gaming facility. Others opened in Toledo and Columbus soon thereafter, and in March another Horseshoe Casino in Cincinnati will welcome its first guests. By opening casinos in four major cities, the hope in Ohio goes beyond the sparkling lights, lavish buffets and even the potential for tax revenue: As investments that rival only stadiums in scope, these casinos are tasked with bringing life to urban economies. From foot traffic to spinoff businesses, from jobs at craps tables to construction work, more and more communities are betting on casinos to fill the void in city centers. The new entertainment option is also expected to entice people to neighborhoods they don’t otherwise visit, and could go a long way toward assuring newcomers, like Joe’s wife, that the city isn’t as frightening as they believed.
But the promise of urban casinos carries no small risk — and not just for individuals who stand to lose on the betting floor...