Think of ramifications of casinos

The idea that the economic situation in The Cayman Islands is less than desirable seems to have finally hit home.

Newspaper articles, letters to the editor and ads for private entry into the public domain during the past several weeks have stirred many comments about lasting solutions to the effect of the global economic downturn in Cayman.

Each of us has his or her idea for ‘saving the Caymanian economy.’ I have noticed a number of letters to the editor that tout casinos as the answer to our dilemma.

I lived in South Mississippi in the late 1980s and early 1990s when talk began about bringing casino gambling to the coast. The local economy was in shambles and unemployment was moving toward recession levels. Many of us were therefore enthusiastic about the possibility of an industry that could offer jobs, tax revenue, and economic stability to the area. I was in the number of voters who approved the referendum that allowed floating casinos to become a part of the Mississippi landscape.

Many of us had no idea just how much the landscape would change; nor how quickly. We let the dollar signs blind our vision of the future of the coast. This is not to say that all change is bad, just an attempt to let readers know that change is inevitable. Once the referendum passed, the casino owners who felt that they had a chance at one of the licenses began moving ‘gambling boats’ down the Mississippi River from less lucrative venues. Within a few days after the first license was issued, a casino was in operation.

One of our favourite beach spots was near the Long Beach/Gulfport city limit line on the west side of Gulfport. From that section of white sand, the small craft harbour of Gulfport was visible. We liked to watch the local shrimp boats and fishing boats come and go as we lounged or played along the shore. Within a week of the opening of the first casino, The Grand Casino had purchased the harbour and dismantled it. A casino barge was moved in and opened for business. In the ensuing years, a large hotel, that actually spans US highway 90, and a huge parking garage have been constructed.

The foregoing is not a statement of displeasure or dislike for the casinos or the industry. I am not a gambler but I have no moral problem with gambling. My attempt is only to convey that change is so tremendously obvious when it is fast moving and happens right before your eyes. During the first month of operation in Biloxi, one of the casinos was adding to its parking area. A small seafood restaurant occupied a piece of property that was surrounded by their parking lot. A deal to purchase the property was struck at around 6pm one evening. A group of friends and I were having a late dinner just across Highway 90 from the location. At 10pm when the lights were turned off, an electrician disconnected the power, a plumber disconnected the water and a crew with a track hoe and dump trucks began demolishing and hauling away the building as we stared in disbelief. By sunrise the next morning, the area was blacktopped and marked with parking space stripes.

The first casinos were opened in Mississippi in August of 1992. There are now 30 casinos in the state and they have a workforce of 32,000 or more. Mississippi is now the third largest gambling resort area in the US. According to the Mississippi State Tax Commission, the industry now contributes some $330 million dollars annually, in taxes, to the state coffers.

In relating the above statements, I have attempted to offer, to the best of my knowledge, some small insight into the discussion regarding the invitation if the casino industry to Cayman to help solve the current fiscal woes that we are facing. My rationale is that we should consider all avenues but, that we should educate ourselves and use a common sense approach in choosing any industry or means of generating jobs and revenue.

Establishing a casino industry in Cayman will bring its own set of problems that will enlarge many that we already face. Utilities for a large facility could stress already overextended water, sewage disposal and garbage disposal systems. The electrical load will also be strongly affected. We must plan well enough to remedy the possible impact on each of these entities.

We must remember that the gaming industry depends, for the most part, on disposable income. Cayman would compete with the cruise lines, other Caribbean locations and much of the US gulf coast for those disposable dollars spent on gambling. The Ministry of Tourism would necessarily have to step up efforts to increase stay-over visitors. Cruise line passengers have access to gaming on board ship and most would not be interested in more gambling. Air fares and hotel rates would also need to entice visitors to come stay a while.

A casino on any of the three islands would improve the job market. We must remember that most of the supervisory personnel would be expats. I have no idea that there are those in the population who have the training to operate the gaming systems of such an establishment. Hotel and restaurant managers would be more readily available.

Caymanians must decide whether the end is worth the means. The establishment of a gambling industry requires more than just inviting investors. The necessary and correct regulating agency must be put in place and police force impact must be taken into consideration. Decisions concerning tax relief, duty waivers, and labour requirements must be well thought out. Gambling would contribute to the tax revenue of the Government but, it would not be an immediate shot in the arm. Thoughtful consideration of each step in the process is imperative.

Randy Kinsey