CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Mississippi's increasingly infamous gambling industry with unlimited licenses, low taxes and low license fees looks mighty good on paper. It, in fact, has created thousands of new jobs for people who work in the casinos and the enterprises like hotels associated with them.

The other side of the paper tells a different story one that doesn't look nearly so good as the state's marketing experts would have everyone believe.

Three articles in the the January issue of The Atlantic Monthly, a magazine internationally respected for the accuracy of its reporting, describe the high expectations and dashed hopes of many people in Tunica County, where gambling was proclaimed as the economic savior for a population measured among the poorest and most poorly educated in the United States.

The three part series by Benjamin and Christina Schwarz describes the undisputed infusion of investment more than $1 billion by gambling interests into the county. It documents also the lack of widespread economic or social progress among Tunica County's overwhelmingly poor, majority black population since 1992, when the first casino opened.

Land values have risen 9,900 percent, according to the Schwarz articles, but that is little consolation because the black majority owns little property. Even those blacks who have risen out of poverty because of gambling-related jobs the articles report, have great difficulty buying land on which to build new homes.

Tunica County's unemployment rate, 15.1 percent in 1991, the last year before casinos opened, was 14.5 percent in September of 1995. A majority of the new jobs related to gambling are held by non-residents, and therein can be found the bottom line of Tunica County's lack of progress even with the influx of investment and wealth.

The fundamental social order hasn't changed. The county's elected officials have cut property taxes and done nothing to sytematically and significantly improve the county's dismally bad public schools. Whites shun public education. Prosperous whites now look over the poor black majority (as has been the case since Tunica County began) toward an influx of prosperous whites to build up the county's economic base. The dream seems to be of becoming a haven for whites fleeing Memphis' urban problems and reitrees looking for rural tranquility. Segregation, in practice and result, still rules.

The Schwarzes observed, " ... Far from from participating in the American dream, most of Tunica's black population is excluded from even the mundane aspects of American life."

Has gambling changed Tunica County? Yes.

Has gambling made Tunica County a better place to live for most of its people? No.

Money, including gambling money, makes a positive difference only when it's invested in improving people and their quality of life. Most Tunica countians still look from a distance at what many perceive as the good life. The things that could be done to make a long-term positive difference have been ignored by people with the power to do them.

Gambling, like King Cotton before it, pays back to a privileged few in Tunica County and leaves the majority on the dead end road of ignorance and poverty.

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