by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

They lined the streets in a hellish heat, on the darkest day in this city’s recent history. And they were smiling.

They couldn’t wait to hand their money over.

They sweated. They sat on the curb. They passed hour after hour in boring humidity, staring at a building, waiting for its doors to open.

They couldn’t wait to hand their money over.

They weren’t shopping. They weren’t buying anything. They would not go home with a car, a new dress or even a bag of groceries. Most would go home with nothing more than emptier pockets. Still, they stayed.

They couldn’t wait to hand their money over.

Down the street were empty lots. Up the street was a potholed highway. A few blocks away were poor citizens who flagged passing cars with cardboard signs, asking for help.

No one in line came to help.

Yet they couldn’t wait to hand their money over.

The object of their generosity was not a charity or a church. The object of their generosity was a corporation already so rich, it makes your head spin.

It is a corporation with no roots in this city. It is a corporation that, had it not been granted a license to make money here, would have been out of this city faster than a getaway car. It is a corporation that, under other circumstances, these same people would decry as greedy and uncaring.

Yet they couldn’t wait to hand their money over.

They had come to gamble. To roll dice, pull slots, take cards and believe foolishly — as millions have before them — that they were going to beat the corporation. It was the beginning of increased crime, corruption, social problems and the siphoning of money from those who can least afford it.

And the mayor called it a “great day”?

Remember Atlantic City

Lights do not mean progress. Noise does not mean culture. Traffic does not mean commerce. And casinos do not mean rebirth. I will go to my grave declaring that the MGM Grand opening last week — the first land-based casino in a major American city — was a horrid blemish on the history of this city, a sign that things have grown so desperate we will play with devils just to see someone smile at us.

Rebirth? Come on. If MGM were interested in urban renewal, would it have taken over an old building just off the freeway and slapped together a temporary gambling center so quickly it was still nailing things in when the doors opened? Less than 24 hours after the final legal hurdle, the casino was sucking in dollars. What does that tell you about its priorities?

You may have noticed there were no movie stars imported — which any big casino would do if competing in the glitz of Las Vegas. Here in Detroit, which is seen by casinos — they won’t admit it — as a great place to suck up poor people’s money, the MGM Grand sent a magician into the street Thursday to do rope tricks and amuse the suckers.

Rebirth, my foot.

If MGM is interested in sparking Detroit business, then why are there three restaurants under its roof? Do you think anyone will leave the building to eat down the street — especially when they can play Keno from their table?

Of course not. They never do. Anyone who has studied casino gambling knows this. Check out Atlantic City. One huge casino, followed by blocks of poverty, followed by another casino. You can count on a similar pattern here.

And still, they couldn’t wait to hand over their money.

Money not in our pockets

“Wait,” I hear you say. “A casino creates jobs.” Yes. Dealing cards, waiting tables, showing cleavage. Not exactly city-boosting careers.

Meanwhile, study after study shows how families are torn apart when gambling is introduced to a community, how costs rise for fighting crime, how government officials start doing favors in exchange for that casino generosity.

But this morning, the city buzzes with tales of winners. Sure. Nobody brags about money they lost. These glory stories will spur more and more people — mostly the poor ones — to try the seemingly fast way to wealth.

It won’t work. And the corporation couldn’t care less. It is doing its thing: getting money on the table and sweeping it into the pot. MGM Grand earned $180 million in profit the last two years. Whose money do you think that is?

The answer, for those of you waiting in line, is simple:

It used to be yours.

It just had a rebirth.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!