The Las Vegas of the North

While economics will dominate this debate, the problem is a casino above Camp Snoopy.

Minnesotans are traditionally known for their modesty. Listen to a Garrison Keillor radio broadcast and this becomes readily apparent. Then again, Minnesotans are also known for their fascination with big things: Paul Bunyan, giant plaster fish, a garage-sized ball of yarn.

This seeming contradiction in terms will surely make the debate over whether to include a giant casino in the Mall of America expansion plans an interesting one.

Revealed Tuesday, the plans of mall owners, the Ghermezian family, would call for a $1 billion expansion. The most controversial aspect of the plan is a 200,000-square-foot casino. While the Ghermezians can do what they want with their property, the casino, as well as the Ghermezian’s desire for a public subsidy, places the expansion in the realm of public debate.

A casino at the mall is a bad idea. Currently, it is a family-oriented experience. A casino in such close viscinity to the kiddie lands of Camp Snoopy is unseemly. Children should not be taught that casinos are the same as a trip to the movies. Exposure to casinos leads to exposure to smoking, alcohol, scantily clad women and other parts of that culture.

The economic gains to the state as a whole from a large casino (sales taxes and other increased overall business) do not outweigh the costs.

Studies show counties with casinos have higher personal bankruptcy rates. As the Taxpayers League of Minnesota President David Strom pointed out Thursday in a Star Tribune opinion piece, 80 percent of casino revenue comes from 10 percent of the “customers.”

In this case, customer means loser. It’s not every day we agree with Strom, but on this issue he is dead on. People gambling away the money they need for food, rent and health care would then become a burden for the state.

The Ghermezians already face an uphill battle for having a casino at the Mall of America. The plan would have to be approved by the Bloomington City Council, the Legilature as well as Gov. Tim Pawlenty, all of whom have displayed a lukewarm welcome to the plan.

This debate is beyond the economic benefits of the casino. The mall should be kept a place of families and children.