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C. Fraser Smith: Good luck with that Horseshoe

What do we know so far about the benefits Baltimore can expect from the Horseshoe Casino?

We know more than you might think.

A dingy part of the city, its entry portal, looks great. Roads have been resurfaced. The immediately adjacent Holiday Inn Express illustrates the real estate maxim: location, location, location. We have some new jobs. An old industrial city has something to crow about — not an everyday event.

All to the good, of course. It would take a real devotee of the half-empty school of life to talk about anything else.

Which is, of course, what someone has to do.

The future is now, we know. Cities have to act on every opportunity to solve budget problems — which gambling revenue represents. So Baltimore jumped on the train to legalize slots and table games — the whole package.

Or, as Zorba the Greek famously said, “the full catastrophe.”

Mark Reutter of the Baltimore Brew observes in a comprehensive report that much of the “impact” money is going to — you guessed it — the casino.

“Impact grants” are to be used “for improvements primarily in the communities in immediate proximity to [the casinos] and may be used for the following purposes: infrastructure improvements, facilities, public safety, sanitation, economic and community development, including housing, and other public services and improvements.”

“Even after excluding the $3 million that the city has set aside to pay Caesars Entertainment for a relocated steam pipeline, the vast majority of first-year casino impact funds earmarked for 19 South Baltimore neighborhoods won’t be going to those communities.

“A Brew analysis of the $10 million expected to be raised this year in impact funds from the Horseshoe Casino — which officially opened Tuesday — shows that $3.85 million will be allocated for city services (police, sanitation, security cameras, traffic control, medics) directly supporting the casino,” he writes. Defined broadly, I guess, this improves the quality of life in neighborhoods.

“Another chunk of impact money ($2 million) is headed back to Caesars Entertainment as reimbursement for upgrading and repaving the four streets … around the casino,” Reutter finds.

The 19 neighborhoods get $700,000 in adult employment and training benefits, two new sanitation crews, $225,000 for a youth jobs program and $110,000 for a neighborhood food advocate.

Compared to the money funneled back to Caesars as reimbursements for upgrading and repaving, these sums will inevitably be referred to as crumbs. City officials may explain that certain expenses incurred by the company had to be covered now — and could be one-time only. Perhaps that will leave more impact funds for the neighborhoods in coming years.

Stories like this are even more important in the context: Now that Baltimore and Maryland and so many other states have entered the gambling business, government has an even greater responsibility to show how the people are benefiting.

And what about the impact of gambling on the city’s culture? Too late, you say. Perhaps. But maybe not. We should at least be thinking about the potential for unhappy change. We are not talking about the Ravens or the Orioles here. Hard to imagine fathers and sons/daughters bonding over baccarat.

And there is this from an old-time Baltimorean who worries about the future: “The lifespan of a gambling casino cannot be compared to, say, the lifespan of a Bethlehem Steel. Sooner rather than later, the Horseshoe may collapse. It’s happened.

“This is not pessimism, It is realism. Then what? A lot of infrastructure right in downtown Baltimore will stand yawning and vacant. The so-called ‘jobs’ will be gone.

“But for now, the doors are open, the good times are rolling!”

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.