Following is the statement prepared for the Gaming Commission hearing in Allentown on May 23, 2006:
Statement from the Alliance for Sustainable Communities
… We come before you today as an Alliance representing groups, businesses, and individuals in the Lehigh Valley who believe that our best interests lie in sustainable economy, sustainable agriculture, and sustainable development. By sustainable we mean efforts and actions that use all the sources of life, energy, and wealth in ways that conserve them and sustain them for the future generations. We believe that land, soil, water, air, and the human capacity for work and creativity belong to everyone, especially our children and grandchildren, regardless of their gender, color, or class.
We want you to understand that we represent over 100 groups and many more individuals in the Lehigh Valley. Our numbers increase all the time. We are speaking for a large number of people who want to see a different direction, new models, more hope, more justice, and more happiness, joy, and pride.
Our message to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is this: we believe that casinos, gambling, and slots do not offer the kind of development we want here in the Lehigh Valley and especially in South Bethlehem. We believe there are other, much better alternatives.
Do we want development? Of course. Where are the municipal governments, the school districts, businesses, non-profits, and workers going to get the money we need? We need jobs, grants, and funding from the State in the form of reallocation of our taxes. But we do not need or want gambling outfits that will change the nature of our cities and towns and suck as much money out of our economy as they can.
What the gambling interests are proposing will be very destructive for our community. A Las Vegas-style intrusion — a gambling-driven entertainment, hospitality, and retail complex — will undermine our economy and bring huge inconvenience to those who live in its vicinity. Construction will tie up our streets and roads, and the promised influx of gamblers — if they even come — will create unending congestion. The promoters of gambling say that their customers will be good for our economy, but everyone knows that the same corporations will do everything to keep consumers inside the gambling complex, spending all their money in the big name franchises that will come in. When money is spent in local businesses more than 40% of it returns into the local economy. However in the case of businesses whose headquarters are outside of the region, the profits go back to the home office and to the stockholders. Less than 15% of the money that circulates stays in the local economy.
We who live here will pay a high price: our local businesses will suffer from the competition, middle and low income residents will be chased out of their neighborhoods due to sky-rocketing property values. Will the money spent by our local government to provide the infrastructure for the gambling interests ever yield sufficient benefits to the citizens? Will the big-spending tourists even come as gasoline prices soar ever higher? In the case of failure or decreasing profits, the distant gambling corporations can pull out, leaving the community with a monumental glittery carcass. The surrounding properties that were valuable for awhile will suddenly lose their worth, and we will be left with abandoned businesses and boarded-up buildings.
We want the focus of our local leaders to be on development that will create a long-term economy that keeps profits local and creates the kinds of jobs that will use the hard-working, intelligent, highly skilled workers in the Lehigh Valley. An Alternative Energy Center, which is being discussed at the bi-county level, offers the kind of economic engine this area needs. It will provide not only products we need, such as affordable and renewable energy, but permanent jobs in new technologies: manufacturing, retrofitting, research, education. This is the future our area and the whole country is looking toward — effective ways to conserve energy, to provide alternative energies for homes, businesses, agriculture, and transportation, to adapt and modernize all our services, industries and structures in ways that recognize the realities of peak oil and the end of cheap oil. The glitzy gambling complexes we have seen described will be huge users of electricity, water, and other resources and huge producers of trash and garbage and other waste, in addition to bringing gambling addictions, crime, and traffic congestion.
If despite our appeals you decide to place a gambling outfit in South Bethlehem or anywhere in the Valley, we demand that the responsible corporations work with us to minimize the damage. We see them as unwelcome guests who owe us a great deal. As far as Bethlehem is concerned, the idea that the Bethlehem Steel land couldn’t be developed without the casino is bogus. The land was tied up in bankruptcy and as the International Steel Group decided what to do with the assets. When the land became available, other options could have been pursued, but it was bought up even before Act 71 was passed.
We are outraged by the whole undemocratic process that is attempting to bring gambling to us. The public has not been included in a genuine way. The laws that allow the state to preempt local decisions regarding gambling were enacted by the same legislature that gave us the illegitimate pay raises of last fall. The interests of the ordinary citizen are tossed to the wind. Who represents the interests of the local citizens? We do.
We are concerned about the new facilities of the gambling complex. Will they generate their own energy? What will be done with the trash they generate — probably tremendous amounts of styrofoam, plastics, and packaging materials. Will they protect the local water and air? Where will the food they serve come from? Can we require that they shop locally? Buy from local farmers? Can we require, by the way, that they pay a living wage?
We want the freedom and the support from the State to come up with sustainable local solutions that will benefit all of our citizens. We ask our government officials to turn their attention and efforts to projects such as the Alternative Energy Center which will benefit our local economy in a whole and comprehensive way. Let’s forget the colossal waste of a cancerous delusional disneyland and build instead a productive economic engine that will bring long-term wealth and pride to the Lehigh Valley.
Submitted 23 May 2006