by | May 24, 1998 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

This is about second chances.

We voted casino gambling into our city a few years ago — by a narrow margin. In the weeks after the vote, the media ran a lot of stories about what gambling does to a town. Stories about failed attempts in New Orleans and broken promises in Atlantic City. Stories about gambling addictions. Stories about who really feeds the one-armed bandits and craps tables — namely, the poor who can least afford it.

I began to get letters and phone calls that went like this: “Man, I wish I had known these things before I voted yes. Where was this information a few weeks ago?”

It was a fair question. We made a mistake. We now have a chance to correct it.

There is a bold move to undo the damage, to repeal Proposal E, which opened the floodgates to gambling in the first place. It still can be done. But in order to repeal it, it must first be put back on the ballot for November.

And in order for that to happen, there must be around 250,000 signatures on a petition.

There are only a few days left to sign that petition.

For the good of our future, I suggest we do so now.

Dial 1-800-745-3334.

Don’t believe what you hear

Now, let me tell you why. I grew up not far from Atlantic City, N.J. I was there when casinos promised economic revitalization. “We’re going to take care of all the old people here,” they said. “Our money will rebuild your town.”

Look at what Atlantic City has become. One huge casino surrounded by three blocks of ghetto, followed by another huge casino. Old people weren’t helped. In many cases they were displaced or driven out by crime and poverty.

The simple fact is casino gambling doesn’t benefit anybody but the casinos. Don’t listen to spokespeople. Don’t listen to politicians. Use your common sense when you hear the following:

1) “We’re here to help you.” Come on. Do you really think casinos are in the urban renewal business? Remember Donald Trump, who bid for a casino here? He cooed about the rebirth of Detroit, how he wanted to be a part of it all. I spoke to Trump a few days after his casino bid was rejected. Here is what he said: “You win some, you lose some. I got so many other casino deals I can’t even keep track.”

2) “Casino gambling will make Detroit a destination spot.” Come on. I love our city. But let’s be honest. If a convention group can book Orlando, Las Vegas, San Diego or the Bahamas, do you really think it’s picking Detroit because of three casinos?

3) “Look at the money we’re losing to Windsor.” This is a favorite of casino backers. They point to money going across the river. I’ll point to it, too. I’ll say that’s our money — not tourists’ money. I’ll say that’s money largely from Detroiters who shouldn’t be gambling, people heading to Windsor with cashed benefits checks, or with their last $100. I’ll say it’s bad enough there’s a place across the river that can bleed us dry. But at least you need to go through customs to get there. Why build three financial sinkholes in our own backyard?

Don’t give up our hope

Look, folks. You can’t point to one major-league city that has worked with gambling in its downtown. Las Vegas? It only exists because of gambling. It had no history before it. Detroit has history. Detroit has pride. Sure, we have enormous problems, and a desperate landscape. But we have something else, too. Hope. Hope that we can rebuild. Hope that we can become great again. Once you invite casinos in, you trade in much of that hope. The city will never the same. Never.

And, by the way, if a politician tells you “think of the money the city will make from casinos” ask him to account for the money the city gets now. If you don’t think any chunk of money — no matter how big — can’t disappear through bureaucracy and politics, you’re not paying attention.

So I say we vote again. I say we get all the information out there before November. And please don’t say, “The people have spoken.” The people spoke in 1976, 1981, 1988 and 1993. The people said no to casino gambling every time. The casinos kept coming. Kept putting it on the ballot.

If they can do it five times, we can do it twice. If it passes again in November, with our knowledge of Mayor Archer’s flip-flop on the riverfront, with our witnessing how these casino groups really operate — if, with all that, we still vote for it, well, then let it be.

But we deserve another shot. Call 1-800-745-3334 to sign the petition. I said earlier this is about second chances. Let me amend that. It’s our last chance.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.


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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.

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