Casino gambles with Cape's future
"The [casino] is what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the Sixth Reich."
-- Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"
The city won't become a den of thieves, a brothel filled with ladies of the night or a desolate ghost town if a casino sets up shop, but every action does have its consequences. Cape Girardeau needs to brace itself so as not to become a junkie hooked on gambling revenues. The casino will hold all the cards, giving it more sway with city government – locals beware.
The Southeast Missourian reported the city has decided to spend $3 million, the property payment from Isle of Capri LLC, on beautifying Broadway if voters approve the casino. Cape will form a new tax district, made up of downtown's small businesses and property owners, to fund projects complementary to having a casino near the river.
Some ideas being floated around: More security, removing trash and marketing the area.
The security will be for protecting the casino's interests – not the citizens of Cape. Downtown will see a blossoming of loan and pawnshops en masse. Regardless of how cool "Pawn Stars" makes the business look on the History Channel, it's not cool when you're pawning the family silver to make the nut on a gambling debt.
The problem with downtown Cape is that the world has moved on. It used to be the epicenter of town, but now businesses have moved to Interstate 55. It will never be the business center again; it can only hope to find a niche market.
Let's nurse the music scene and grow the unique culture that seeps out of downtown Cape. The city can keep the of-age college students and locals entertained and spending money with live bands, stiff drinks and an old town feel. Boutique shops aimed at the college-aged consumer would also increase foot traffic on Main Street.
College students will pack downtown bars on the weekends if they don't head home to St. Louis or out to a new casino. A casino will siphon money from local businesses because they own their own hotels, restaurants and liquor. Remember playing Monopoly? It's not just a board game. The businesses that keep their doors open and their lights on will be left dividing a significantly reduced slice of the pie chart.
Main Street in historic downtown Cape should look to model itself after Beale Street in Memphis or Delmar in St. Louis. Let us revel in the live music that floods nightly out of Rude Dog or Breakaways and embrace Cape's unique position on the big muddy river half way between "the Lou" and "the Bluff City." We can be a cultural center in Southeast Missouri if we wish, or we can be another cheap casino town. Buying culture never works. Still, the choice is ours to make this coming November.