Legalized gambling is a sucker’s bet Iowa will lose

Greg Jerrett

What is the deal with gambling in the state of Iowa? Back in the ’20s and ’30s, we had Billy Sunday preaching against the evils of, well, everything, really.

Today, we have cities running toward this darkest of sins like demented grade-schoolers after the ice cream man. Only this ice cream man is not the good, friendly ice cream man of yons past. This guy is more like the Clint Howard, freakshow ice cream man.

Not every day is a happy, happy, happy day. But try to tell that to the otherwise good people of Iowa who can’t wait to let the corporate pimps ride into their towns and turn them out like whores for the sake of a few measly kickbacks.

For Council Bluffs, the whoring started in 1985. Council Bluffs got suckered into opening a dog track on the empty promise that the city would get millions of dollars every year to use for civic improvements. Let’s face it, CB could use some improvement in the civic department.

The process probably went something like this: CB is a hellhole nestled up against another low-rent level of Hades (Omaha), so we might as well screw two cities with one dog track.

It was heralded as the dawn of a new golden age for the city that never wakes. Finally, CB was going to build, improve and move up the urban ziggurat after over a hundred years of being bitter about losing the railroad to Nebraska.

The city council even started doing a little urban renewal on the south side of town. This southwestern Iowa variety Master Plan included the placing of dozens of enormous flower pots to dress up the blight by the tracks.

They got the planters down, and then the state got around to explaining that the city of Council Bluffs must have misunderstood. The money that residents thought was to benefit the city was to go to the fat state coffers to benefit all Iowans not forced to smell the stench of tons of Greyhound crap while the rate of gambling addiction rose to new heights.

You know how it feels to get sucker-punched like a bunch of dumb crackers by your own state? Well, let me tell you, Snappy, it stings. It stings real bad, see?

So for the better part of the ’80s and ’90s, CB got to play Judas Goat for two states. Our town got to have the honor of providing badly needed income for roads and hospitals in other towns.

Meanwhile, we took the heat from Nebraska for being the new Sodom because in addition to a dog track, we had a couple of strip clubs and a porno shop.

The fact that all these dirty, little businesses were owned and operated by Nebraskans and frequented most often by Cornhuskers was never a fact worthy of airing, but I digress.

In 1994, having forgotten the previous humiliation well enough, the city of Council Bluffs royally screwed itself by deciding to let big business open two new casinos.

Now most of your citizens, incapable of seeing the big picture, are thrilled to have brightly lit casinos lining the river. Easily impressed by shiny objects, they see these dens of iniquity as the equivalent of big city sophistication. Makes a hick feel right good to drive up Interstate 29 and see lights so bright they could offend our Lord.

Of course, the new casinos needed waitresses, pit bosses, runners, dealers and maintenance crews. A few new jobs always makes the scenario look beneficial, and to tell the truth, they don’t pay too bad either.

But knowing Council Bluffs as I do, I saw the other side of the story.

Formerly successful businesses closed left and right because no one could compete for the entertainment dollars like Harvey’s and Ameristar.

Even industries that you wouldn’t think were in competition lost out. Comic book stores closed because those normally addicted to “Magic: The Gathering” found a new jones in the slot machine. And this one had the girlfriends hooked as well. Fun for the whole family.

Restaurants and bars that had been doing fine for decades suddenly couldn’t compete because the big boys, in addition to offering gambling, provided food below cost because gambling revenue covered the shortfall.

Bars lost business because you can drink free as long as you’re plugging the one-armed bandit.

Middle-class CBers, and there are a few, easily overlooked the downside because it didn’t effect them. They could easily view a few restaurants and businesses as a realistic shift in the market. All the better for providing cheap labor to the casinos, I guess.

Armed robberies went up drastically as well. One productive bank robber in Omaha was caught on tape between two robberies in one day spending his loot at the casino. The only upside to all of this is you can now get a much better class of hooker in Council Bluffs. No more cold and lonely nights at the truck stop waiting for Snow White to get done with the seven truckers lined up before you.

Though I understand that some folks are as offended by the proliferation of prostitution as others are by gambling so this might be a double-edged sword here.

Gambling is a curse that widens the gulf between the haves and have-nots except for Indian casinos which I view as justified, but that’s for another time.

Greg Jerrett is a graduate student in English from Council Bluffs. He is opinion editor of the Daily.