June 2012

JUNE 2012: A Line In The Sand - A Casino In Hardeeville

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

COURTNEY’S OPINION:

Iconic crooner Barry Manilow is selling his oceanfront Malibu estate for $6,950,000. How’d he swing those digs?

Well, that chick Mandy, she came and she gave without taking, so he had that going for him. (He probably sent her away just in time.) Barry has also had a four-decade career entertaining the masses with his sappy sweet ballads that most recently landed him a seven-year gig playing two shows a night in Vegas. Jackpot!

Vegas is where it’s at. Washed up ’70s singers can don their polyester onesies and rock out again, and again, and again. I know. I’ve seen Barry in Vegas twice. You might think I’m pathetic. I say, well you’re probably right. I helped pave his path to prosperous retirement.

When word originally began to spread that a casino and resort complex was in the planning stages within Hilton Head Lakes, (which for the geographically challenged is a good 15 miles from Hilton Head), local government and business officials were in a tizzy. Why?

Well, members of a Hilton Head Island Republican Club have concerns that a casino in Jasper County would “tarnish the area’s image as a wholesome, family-friendly resort and retirement destination.”

Jim Wescott, executive director of the Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Commission, has had mixed feelings. “The businesses that tend to grow up around casinos aren’t always wholesome, and the clientele aren’t necessarily always welcome,” he said. Eeew, he’s right. What if they have tattoos?

Last month, Hilton Head resident John Garnett formed CATCH, the Committee Against the Casino in Hardeeville. “This is something that threatens our quality of life,” he said. “I don’t have any moral issues with casinos or with people who want to spend their money there, but I think it would diminish the Hilton Head brand.”

Despite the influx of jobs (a few thousand) that the casino would bring, even Governor Haley’s spokesperson has indicated, “the governor has no intention of signing any memorandum of understanding that would enable casino gambling.”

I say don’t let these goodie two-shoes ruin our future fun.

But just for kicks, let’s talk about “wholesome,” shall we? If we have to say we are wholesome, well we probably aren’t. That’s like someone telling you that they are funny. If you have to tell someone you are funny, you’re not. You just want to be.

Consider this: if you believe everything you read, sources have reported that Sun City “Hilton Head” residents are stripping down and swinging with their neighbors. A pineapple on your front porch means you’re ready to toss your keys in a bowl. Now that’s a show straight out of Manilow’s era. It sounds like the over-50 contingent could get behind (or on top of) the idea of a Lowcountry casino. I wonder if the Hilton Head Republican Club has investigated this Sun City “Hilton Head” infraction. Are rumors of swinging affecting home values?

I love where we live. Heck, I bought a house on my second visit and moved here within four months of that visit. On those visits, when I flew into Savannah and drove “the back way” to Bluffton, never once did I deduce that the strip clubs lining the route meant that I was headed into the danger zone. Nor do I think that the Gold Club on Hilton Head prevents the island from being family-friendly. I don’t balk at a friendly game of Left, Right, Center either. Or some skins on the golf course. What say you, Hilton Head Republican Club? Have you never placed a friendly wager with your foursome?

Everyone wants change: raise taxes/lower taxes, re-vamp health care, create more jobs. But everyone wants it on his or her own terms. Unfortunately, the world, the county, the state and the Lowcountry isn’t only about you. Perhaps you won’t frequent a casino. That’s okay. You don’t have to. But, if 3,000 of our neighbors may find employment in that casino, would you deny them that?

Here we are, back at the perception conundrum again. Let’s not jump to conclusions and assume that a casino also means an influx of unsavory businesses and the grand opening of the Heidi Fleiss Finishing School. If people want to spend the day in a casino, 18 miles from the beaches and family-friendly activities of Hilton Head, let them. We’re probably less likely to bump into them than the golf group from Ohio spending their days playing 36 holes at the golf club and their nights trying for a hole in one in at the Gold Club.

Big picture people. Big picture.

FRANK’S OPINION

“When you get depressed, you attend seminars. When you attend seminars, you feel like a winner. When you feel like a winner, you go to Vegas. When you go to Vegas, you lose everything. When you lose everything, you sell your hair to a wig shop.”

Have you seen that ad on TV? Don’t you think of that poor sap selling his hair when somebody tries to tell you that a proposed casino on the Hilton Head Lakes property in Hardeeville will attract a wave of cumulative tourism and create tons of new economic activity? That’s about as credible as calling a place Hilton Head Lakes when it’s 30 miles from the island.

The casino will create some 2,000 new jobs and $92 million in wages, salaries, and benefits for Jasper County, so goes the story. That’s according to the would-be developer’s consultant who boasts that the numbers come from sophisticated computer models and years of experience managing similar properties all over the world. Call me cynical, but the word consultant (a guy who’s paid to say what the guy who pays him wants him to say) makes me wary. Sounds like a field of dreams to me. You know, “if you build it they will come.”

I doubt it. Tourists come here for the water and to do stuff outdoors in the warm sunshine. Ever been to a casino? They’re designed to keep you inside until you’ve lost your shirt. So I guess we’re supposed to believe that community marketing efforts have been ignoring an untapped segment of millions of people ready to stampede to the Lowcountry so they can spend the entire time indoors playing slots. Where’s your evidence that these people exist, Mr. Consultant? Two thousand jobs and 92 million bucks would be just peachy, but I’m wondering how you expect that to happen without any customers.

What if the casino does manage to intercept a few Hilton Head-bound travelers just off I-95? Suck ’em in and turn ’em loose once they’ve blown the vacation budget and the mortgage payment. These folks aren’t likely to be in much of a mood to drive the remaining 30 miles to the island for a cool one at the Tiki Hut and a nice dinner at one of our fine culinary establishments, or to stick around to play some golf. So much for spreading the wealth…unless you’re planning to open a wig shop in Hardeeville.

Contrary to what supporters would have you believe, casinos do not create a rising tide that lifts all boats in their communities, and they don’t spawn waves of new businesses either. It didn’t happen in Atlantic City. Have you ever been there? The casinos might thrive, but cross the street and the rest of the place is a slum. It certainly didn’t happen in Detroit either. Before the casinos, it was a depressed, crime-ridden, smoldering carcass of a once-great city run by a deranged, corrupt, criminal city council. Now Detroit’s a depressed, crime-ridden, smoldering carcass of a once-great city run by a deranged, corrupt, criminal city council…with casinos.

I’m not a gambler, so personally I don’t give a craps table about casinos. But I’m also a libertarian thinker. That is, if somebody wants to build one and the locality wants it and thinks it makes sense, I say let them go for it and leave the state out of it. The thing here is, it doesn’t make sense for the Lowcountry. It’s a really stupid idea. Don’t let them bamboozle you, Hardeeville…and don’t sell your hair to a wig shop.

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