An anti-gambling speaker at a rally held by casino opponents compared gaming interests to the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd.
"Big corporate gambling companies like casinos, along with state and local governments, effectively have had their knee on the throat of the financial well-being of African American citizens for 40 years," Les Bernal, national director of the Washington-based group Stop Predatory Gambling, told attendees at an anti-casino rally held in front of the James F. Ingram Justice Center Sunday.
A representative for the Caesars for Danville campaign would not comment on Bernal's statements.
"We will not be providing comment on Mr. Bernal's claims today," said Steven Gould, a local attorney. "Caesars Entertainment has made a commitment to Danville to create 1,300 new and good-paying jobs and provide $38 million in new tax revenue for the city."
Around 40 people attended the event on a relatively cold and cloudy afternoon. The rally was hosted by the local anti-casino group, Defend Danville.
The group held the event, which also included other speakers besides Bernal, to provide an opportunity for those against the casino to get together and hear perspectives, said Erin Tooley, with Defend Danville.
"We don't think that message is getting out," Tooley told the Danville Register & Bee.
In his blistering speech, Bernal said casinos contribute to racial inequality and exploitation, and are a "big con game" and "a form of consumer financial fraud."
"Local casinos are a form of consumer financial fraud that cause life-changing financial losses for countless citizens," Bernal said.
African Americans are disproportionately affected by gambling problems, spending five times more on lottery tickets than white people, he said. A Caesars in Danville would be a monument to racial injustice and inequality, he Bernal said.
Casinos can only do financial damage to people in a state in which two out of three citizens have less than $1,000 in savings, he said.
"Local casinos will dramatically hurt citizens financially," Bernal said.
"What separates local casinos from every other business, including those involving other vices like alcohol and tobacco, is local casinos are a big con game," he said. "It's similar to price gouging and false advertising so citizens are conned into thinking they can collect money in a scheme that's designed to ultimately get them fleeced."
Danny Campbell, pastor at The Tabernacle, said, "If the casino comes, Danville will lose."
Steve Chromy, pastor at Mount Hermon Baptist Church, recalled a casino coming to a Native American reservation near his hometown in Minnesota when he was in high school.
Half of the ambulance calls in his town were for the casino, where elderly gamblers became dehydrated and were transported to the hospital only to return once they were treated, Chromy said.
Bringing a casino to Danville would devastate families, he said. A casino does not love widows and orphans, it creates them, he said.
"It does not help our families," he said.
Eric Stamps, who started Local Action PAC, an anti-casino political action committee, said of the proposed Caesars Virginia casino, "It's a bad deal for workers, it's a bad deal for Danville."
Two gambling opponents who attended the rally expressed their opposition to the Register & Bee.
"Gambling is destructive," said Carolyn Winstead Bagley, who serves on the Defend Danville committee. "Everything is rigged [in favor of] the house. It robs the people of millions of dollars."
Also, she doesn't want casino patrons drinking and driving close to the elementary schools near the proposed gambling resort site.
Christians in the city are not standing up enough against the casino, said Danville resident Sandy Williams. If Danville gets a casino, "there is just going to be darkness," she said.
A casino would just drive up health care costs in the city from dealing with depression, suicide and gambling addiction, Williams said.
According to reports from researchers at the University of Massachusetts, there was no increase in problem gambling or at-risk gamblers two years after MGM Springfield became the first resort-style casino in Massachusetts, the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton reported on Oct. 15.
City voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether to allow Caesars Entertainment in Paradise, Nevada, to build a $400 million casino resort project in Schoolfield off West Main Street on property where the former Dan River Inc. finishing building now sits.
Based on estimates by Caesars, the development would generate — by the third year of operation — $22 million in state-collected gaming tax revenue remitted to the city, $12 million in annual supplemental payments to Danville, and $4.2 million in meals, sales, lodging, and property taxes.
The casino project would include multiple restaurants and bars, a hotel with 300 four-star guest rooms, a 35,000-square-foot conference center, a 2,500-seat live-entertainment venue, a pool and a spa.
The casino is expected to bring 1,300 jobs as well as 900 construction jobs while being built.
The resort is expected to open in 2023.
If a casino is approved by voters, Caesars would — by the end of 2020 — pay $5 million to buy the Schoolfield site where the casino would be built, and pay $15 million to the city within 30 days of the referendum.
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