Many people say the City must do something about too many casinos in this town.
The first thing I ask an anti-casino person who drinks alcohol is this: have you ever protested a new bar?
Oh, so it’s the other guy’s vice you aren’t comfortable with. Because I can make an argument that alcohol causes and has caused at least as many problems as the anti-casino folks say gambling causes, but so many people are fine with alcohol, as opposed to gambling, because they like to drink.
If you listen to people in this town, or read comments at the Tribune website or on Facebook, you would think that Great Falls, alone in Montana, is simply overrun with gambling. The facts do not bear that out.
Look at the Montana Gambling Control Division’s 2015-2016 Biannual Report, and you will find statistics for what are apparently the 19 largest cities in Montana. Turn to the appendix, and you can see how much gambling there is available in Great Falls compared to the rest of the state.
The average of the 19 largest communities shows that there are 23.99 gaming machines per 1000 residents. In Great Falls, the number is 23.978 gaming machines per 1000 residents. In other words, we are slightly less than average. Billings, the largest city in the state has 23.53 machines per 1000 residents, slightly lower than us. Helena is at 22.37 per 1000, while Kalispell is 29.16 and Whitefish is 25.59.
Bozeman and Missoula both have fewer machines per 1000 residents than we do, a fact that might be explained by the additional fact that a significant portion of their population is made up of young college students who lack the money to gamble. (Of course, if you import 13,000 to 16,000 college age kids into Great Falls every year, we probably wouldn’t be having an economic development discussion either.) Or, maybe those towns are growing past their license quota, and Great Falls never did?
The point, though, is not that Great Falls has too many machines or too few, but merely that arguments you read suggesting that we are some kind of outlier gambling mecca are simply false.
Those same arguments also often point to 10th Avenue South, “Holy cow, you drive down tenth and it’s just casino after casino.” Again, this is not fair argument; put another way, this is by design. You might recall back in the early Oughts that the City spent $80,000.00 on a new zoning code. Well, this code so restricted the available locations for licenses, 10th Avenue South became one of the few places in town where one could even open a bar or casino. So, don’t be surprised that the casinos cluster on 10th. Instead, blame your then-City Commission.
One more point: If the City Commission limits zoning due to the possibility of casinos, and if that’s because the Commissioners just don’t like gambling, the City Commission is not doing its job. You see, gambling is legal. The mere fact that someone is engaging in a legal activity that you do not prefer should not even be considered in this discussion. What if your occupation is next? I would suggest that the majority of casinos are operated by local people, including me and my partners. I was born and raised here, and invested with family members in an industry that our family has been involved in for several generations.
The City has limited the locations of casinos. The City has limited the signage of casinos. The City cannot simply overrule state law.
If you don’t like gaming, your issue is with the legislature, not the City Commission. Otherwise, I think you should stop demonizing your fellow citizens who have invested their money in a legal industry.