The leader of a national group has criticized the recent study on the impacts of a casino in Danville because the report did not address problem gambling.
“In any serious discussion of it, you can’t only look at the benefits,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling based in Washington, D.C. “Nothing in life works that way.”
But looking at gambling addiction was not part of the study’s purpose.
“That was not in our scope,” said Scott Fisher, managing partner and co-founder of New Orleans-based Convergence Strategy Group, which conducted the study for Danville. “It was really to just figure out the fiscal impacts.”
Also, Fisher said the firm takes no position on gaming and does not usually examine gambling addiction in its casino studies.
The study did address the question of whether a casino leads to increased crime by getting input from public safety officials in 12 localities similar in size to Danville. Fisher and study co-author Suzanne P. Leckert found no such increase.
A destination resort casino could bring in about $363.5 million in gaming revenues in 2022 if located at a highway site in the area, according the study, which was presented to Danville City Council during a special work session Tuesday evening.
The operation would create up to 2,377 direct jobs, with annual wages totaling $75.7 million. Total property revenues at that highway location — including hotel, food and beverage and other revenues — were estimated to reach as much as $436.5 million annually.
The study also examined the impact of potential casino sites at the White Mill property, Schoolfield at the former Dan River Inc. at West Main Street and the Piedmont Drive retail corridor.
The National Council on Problem Gambling is neutral on the issue of legal gambling, Whyte said.
“We recognize that for most consumers, it’s recreational, but about 2% of the population and 2% of Virginia are expected to meet criteria for gambling problems,” he said. “We believe you can mitigate the social costs of gambling problems to a large extent, but you have to take it seriously.”
Founded in 1952, the National Council on Problem Gambling is a national advocate for programs to help problem gamblers and their families.
City Manager Ken Larking said city officials did not ask Convergence to include the issue of gambling problems in the study.
“It was not purposely omitted,” Larking said. “It was just not part of the scope of services we were looking for. The information is available widely in other areas we could look up ourselves.”
But if the city puts out a request for proposals to choose a developer/operator for a casino, how the operator deals with problem gambling would be a part of the selection criteria, Larking said.
“Everyone acknowledges it’s a problem,” Larking said. “There needs to be some type of response to it.”
In a related matter, Danville voters on Nov. 5 approved having off-track betting in the city. Colonial Downs, which owns Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums in Vinton, Richmond, Hampton Roads and its main location in New Kent County, hopes to bring a Rosie’s to Danville.
As for casinos, the General Assembly approved legislation last year that could pave the way for commercial casino operations in a few economically challenged cities — including Danville — if approved by voter referendums. The process is currently on hold pending completion of a study by the Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission, and the legislation is subject to ratification during the 2020 General Assembly.
In addition, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is looking to establish two casinos in Virginia — either through federal approval or if the state bill is ratified — that the tribe could agree to operate under state law.
The results of the commission’s study will be presented in Richmond on Monday.
“Our focus in the study is how other states are administering and regulating casino gaming,” said Tracey Smith, associate director of the commission. Smith said she could not discuss details of the study until it’s released Monday.
The General Assembly, during its 2019 session, passed Senate Bill 1126, which directed commission staff to review casino gaming laws in other states — as well as laws covering lotteries, historic horse racing, horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering.
The commission was also asked to appropriate money to contract with a consultant to evaluate the state’s current gaming governance structure — including that for the lottery, gaming and horse racing — for existing legal gambling.
Also studied were potential governing structures for other forms of gaming and possible state revenues from expanded forms of gambling.
The Innovation Group, which has offices in New Orleans, Denver, Orlando and Las Vegas, conducted the study and subcontracted with another firm, Regulatory Management Counselors in East Lansing, Michigan and Las Vegas, for work on the study, as well.
Reach John R. Crane at (434) 791-7987.