Economy will suffer with casino, says consultant

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HUDSON, Wis. - A University professor from Nevada, who is against off-reservation gaming by American Indian tribes, argues that a casino at a dog track here will drain $518 million a year out of the Twin Cities Metropolitan area.

Professor William Thompson was hired by a group of local businesses opposed to development of the casino and dog track proposal.

Three tribes in northern Wisconsin and the owners of the St. Croix Meadows Greyhound Track formed a company called Four Feathers. The tribes got involved some years ago when the race track showed a financial deficit.

An earlier attempt to get approved by the BIA and Department of Interior failed, because of what some call political reasons. Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt was accused of political pandering to other tribes that opposed the deal. Those tribes made political contributions to the 1996 Clinton campaign. A special prosecutor found no wrongdoing.

The Four Feathers group has reapplied for approval. The group says the new application will answer objections local communities may have had against the first application.

Thompson claims his figures show that gambling losses for the first year will be $228 million and that would grow to $334 million by the fifth year of operation. That figure is based on more than 1,000 customers per day.

He estimated the numbers of people would grow to 16,000 in the five-year period, which would create a social cost to the region surpassing $444 million in the first year. The social costs include compulsive gambling, bankruptcy, crime and loss of jobs as a result of potential new employers avoiding the Hudson area because of the gambling operation.

Counter to what Thompson said, studies conducted by the coalition of gaming tribes in Wisconsin show the impact to regions where casinos are located is positive. Salaries, the group claims, are above the minimum, employment opportunities are created where few existed before casino openings and a share of revenues generally are directed to the communities and counties where casinos are located.

Thompson, however, doesn't buy the tribal claims of positive impact. He argues that $107 million in first-year profits will be spent out of the region. Most, he asserts, will be spent in the northern reaches of the state where the tribes are located. He says at least one-fourth of the net revenues will go to Florida, where the owner of the dog track is located.

Four Feathers group disagrees with his predictions.

The businesses that financed Thompson's report did so mainly on the basis of moral and social impacts. They claim job and financial loss to the area are the secondary negative impacts.

Thompson's conclusions will become part of the report sent to the Department of Interior in opposition to reconsideration of the casino operation.

When Four Feathers has submitted all of its information in the reapplication process, the federal government is obligated to hold a 30-day public comment period. Opponents will have that period to submit Thompson's report.

The city of Hudson, which opposed the casino plan in the beginning, has reportedly met with the Four Feathers group in an attempt to mediate a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the casino group against the city.