Impact of tribal gaming debated
As El Dorado County officials defended their position Monday in negotiating with the Miwok tribe planning to build an Indian casino in Shingle Springs, gaming consultants painted a grim picture of a waning industry on the South Shore.
The effects on the South Shore have already been felt long before the county opted last week to take the nearly $200 million settlement offer over 20 years, Reno gaming financial analyst Richard Wells indicated Monday. He released some dire figures of lost revenues.
Upon completing work for a client in the region, Wells surmised the Stateline and South Lake Tahoe markets have lost $16 million since 2000 from the casinos. That’s about half the amount lost in six years – minus other factors such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, national economic slowdown and Bay Area dot-com bust.
And Wells’ firm figured the South Shore’s visitor profile consists of 21 percent from Bay Area residents and 12 percent coming from Sacramento.
Tourism at the gaming tables has been tough.
Table games alone have lost 21 percent in revenue over the last year in comparison to the pre-2000 level of $128 million, the firm found.
“Table games have suffered the most from tribal gaming. The trends are for more slots, but the majority is accounted for by the competition,” he said.
Still, declining revenues can’t be attributed to one casino.
“Shingle Springs is not the only one that will have an impact on South Lake Tahoe. The issue is the accumulation of the casinos,” he said.
Indian gaming encroaching on Nevada’s turf is only expected to increase in the coming years, with 19 casinos proposed to be built from the Central Valley north to Sacramento.
And Frank Streshley of the Nevada Gaming Control Board said there is the possibility the Indian casinos could introduce new players to the arena.
“What we saw in and near Southern California is a decrease in the casinos’ repeat customers. But they were offset by an increase in new customers,” he said.
Either way, most assume an impact will be felt on the South Shore if the casino off Highway 50 between Sacramento and Placerville is built. The environmental impact report is still being challenged by the Voices for Rural Living, a citizens group.
“I’m very disappointed. This will be a significant negative impact. There needs to be a serious community discussion on this,” said South Lake Tahoe marketer and Chamber President Carl Ribaudo, predicting layoffs as a result of the casino going up. He echoed the sentiment of critics of the county for what’s perceived as selling out the South Shore.
After much debate, the county supervisors came out of closed session Thursday with a 4-0 vote to settle with the Miwok tribe.
Tahoe’s District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago and county counsel Ed Knapp flatly denied such an assumption, insisting South Lake Tahoe was widely considered in trying to pad the county’s financial standing across departments.
“Anything that keeps Highway 50 from gridlock helps South Lake Tahoe,” Knapp said. “And we won’t have to take cops off the street in South Lake Tahoe.”
The sheriff’s department will get $500,000 a year from the casino deal – across the board, not just for use on the West Slope, they emphasized.
“But nothing has been earmarked,” the county counsel added. “Keep in mind, casinos on the South Shore don’t spend a penny on law enforcement in South Lake Tahoe.”
Knapp admitted that it’s “a safe bet Tahoe would suffer a bit, but it’s impossible to tell by how much.”
He contends the county’s report estimating the South Shore would lose $40 million in revenue from the Shingle Springs casino going in was overinflated. Santiago said the report took into account gaming revenues and amounts to less than a quarter of that figure.
Tahoe’s supervisor said she has no regrets over her vote.
“My biggest concern was we would have ended up with nothing. Then, we’d have gridlock and no roads fixed,” she said. “The South Shore’s impact was most definitely taken into account. It wasn’t taken lightly.”
She also indicated that if the casino fails to fulfill its end of the bargain, “all bets are off.”