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Economy

Why Casino-Driven Development Is a Roll of the Dice

Usually, the public benefits of gambling deteriorate over time. But many American cities still pin their economic hopes on casinos.
A woman plays the slot machines at Harrah's Casino in Tunica in 2002. The casino closed down in 2014.
A woman plays the slot machines at Harrah's Casino in Tunica in 2002. The casino closed down in 2014. Greg Campbell/AP

Walk into the Commerce Casino in California at 7 a.m., and you’re greeted by the chirps and beeps of a metal black cage that carries tokens to the tables. Three large Egyptian sphinxes at the entrance; overhead, the ceiling is adorned with golden lanterns.  

It’s quiet for a casino: There are no slot machines, just table games. You hear the clinking of chips and the flitter of cards, the dealer’s hook sliding across the green felt, a blender whipping up an early-morning piña colada. R&B music is playing, but this is mostly a place of intense, silent concentration. Men and women sit around card tables in sunglasses and baseball caps, to stifle a “tell.” Welcome to the American Dream.