Having casino revenue flow into the city has been a big impact on the southern Illinois City of Metropolis for the past few decades. Danville officials hope to see the same thing here with a casino within a couple years.
When a casino first came to Metropolis in the 1990s, the city of about 7,000 people received about $7 million annually in revenue.
“It was a big deal,” Mayor Billy McDaniel said.
“We were able to do a lot of infrastructure and things like that that we actually paid in cash. We built a new fire station and police station, remodeled our library, redid a substation …,” McDaniel said, adding that they also paved and widened roadways, paved alleys and completed several other projects over the years. They also had scholarships for local high school students.
McDaniel said he’s not criticizing past use of the money, but he said some also was spent foolishly.
About 25 years later, the city has been seeing about $3.8 million annually in revenue. He said revenue had gradually gone down after the housing crisis hit. People became used to gambling and weren’t doing it as much. McDaniel said the revenue might be lower, but it’s still $3 million the city wouldn’t have otherwise.
McDaniel warns Danville officials, with Danville being a newcomer into the casino mix, that the casino might not generate as much revenue as one might think. So he advises officials not to rely heavily on it for planned projects.
“Just the general economy has changed,” he said, adding that with a senior citizen living off Social Security, maybe he or she is not a big gamer or will spend less at a casino. “The economy will affect gaming.”
Metropolis is affected by video gaming machines at various locations and casinos across the state line at Cape Girardeau, Mo., Evansville, Ind., and other sites.
McDaniel said some say the odds are better with video gaming machines, and that has taken away positions from the casino.
“They can almost tell you what the average patron will lose,” he said.
“We get $1 per head that go on the casino to gamble. That is extra that figures into the equation,” he added.
The once riverboat casino in Metropolis is now land-based, as Danville’s is expected to be.
“They moved it from the barge to the hotel …,” McDaniel said about Metropolis’ Harrah’s casino.
McDaniel cautions Danville officials to really pay attention to what their initial demands are with a casino developer. He said it looks really great at first if you can make $3 million or more.
“You want to make the very best deal because it’s not going to last forever,” McDaniel said. “You don’t want to spend that foolishly.”
He advises “don’t tie yourself into long-term things. You’re going to depend on that revenue.”
As revenue dropped, Metropolis no longer gave Massac County money and there was no longer a scholarship fund.
McDaniel said he’s not a gambler himself; but he said if a person can afford it, they can spend as long as they want in a casino for recreation.
“It just doesn’t interest me,” he said, adding that he will go to the casino’s restaurant occasionally.
“It’s just a form of recreation and that’s what they treat it,” he said of many people.
Metropolis sees local people come to the casino, in addition to others from areas such as Kentucky and the Nashville, Tenn., area.
He said the casino sees tour buses daily and a large percentage of senior citizens. The smoking ban hurt attendance.
“It can be an addiction and some people have no business gaming,” McKinley too said.
He added that the casino gives meals and vouchers and the people who go to the casino mostly stay onsite. The restaurants do very good business, and gas stations also benefit some, he said.
“People who come are coming for a reason,” McKinley said. However, he added, that “you do get some foot traffic,” about people visiting Metropolis’ Superman statue and other sites.
As to any additional crime in his city due to the casino, McDaniel said “you still have more crime of your locals.”
Private contractors overseeing the casino call city police officers time to time, he said.
“They do a very good job of surveillance. They will ban people,” he said of the casino such as banning those causing disturbances.
McDaniel said about the gambling industry, “it’s a moving industry at all times. What they do, they do it right.”
The Metropolis casino and motel had at one time about 1,000-1,200 employees. Now it has about half that, he said.
“Dealers do their own training,” he said, adding that some employees transfer into the casino.
Another common occurrence with the casinos is a change in ownership. It started in Metropolis as Players, with Merv Griffin and brothers selling it. Caesars now owns it, with the Harrah’s name.
The casino in Rock Island, Ill. also saw the same happen. According to public relations manager Bill Renk, with the Delaware North at Jumer’s Casino and Hotel, the casino operation was sold by the original owners to Delaware North in 2011. It also moved sites to be land based.
Renk said due to it being so many years ago, there was no one available to speak on the process about the casino first opening there.
“All the original principals are long gone. And, as for the city, all the principal players (mayor, city manager, community economic development, planning and redevelopment manager, public works, city council) are all gone, as well,” Renk said through email.
Overall, McKinley said the Metropolis casino has benefited the city.
“It has affected some people who lost a marriage or a family or a house because they became addicted,” he said, adding but they could have ended up that way too. “We all have addictions to some things, like electronics, television or games. It’s hard to regulate addictions.”
“On the most part we have benefited. It has not hurt the quality of living in the City of Metropolis,” McKinley said. “It is a lot more positive than it is negative.”
“It certainly won’t bring an element into your city,” McDaniel added.
He again said some people who will visit a Danville casino will stay at hotels, eat at local restaurants and go to some local shops.
“You will get some foot traffic,” he said. “On any given day it’s a plus, not a minus.”