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Expansion of Casino San Pablo Could Pose Major Problems, Study Charges By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday August 02, 2005

Should Casino San Pablo eventually win approval to expand to a full-scale casino with 2,200 regulation slot machines, the result would cost Contra Costa County medical services a minimum of $3.6 million annually, according to a study released Monday. 

The report comes on the day that the casino opened for play with 500 electronic bingo game machines, an interim measure installed after the Lytton Band of Pomos shelved an application to install 2,500 regulation slot machines at the site. 

That proposals could be reactivated at any time. The county commissioned the study earlier this year when the larger casino proposal was still pending before the state legislature. 

Doug Elmets, the Sacramento-based publicist for the tribe, ridiculed the study. 

“Government, academic and industry studies have repeatedly refuted tired and inaccurate studies like this that are always trotted out when casino proposals are made,” he said. “This is just one more ‘the sky is falling’ scam. It isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. There aren’t 2,200 slots. There are 500 electronic bingo games.”  


Bad location 

“We are very concerned about the public health impacts of an urban casino,” said county Public Health Director Wendel Brunner in a prepared statement. “This is especially troublesome because the negative impacts would be concentrated in San Pablo, Richmond and North Richmond, communities that already have severe community health problems.” 

Commissioned by the Contra Costa County Health Services agency, the report was prepared by the Abaris Group, a Walnut Creek consulting firm that specializes in issues relating to the provision of emergency medical services. The 24-page document was unveiled at a Monday afternoon press conference held at Hilltop Mall. 

“The negative affects from casinos would conflict with our Environmental Justice Policy,” said County Supervisor John Gioia. “We don’t want to increase the environmental burden low-income communities already face. This would be a step in the wrong direction.” 

The report cited studies showing that so-called problem and pathological gambling rates are highest among the poorest, least-educated and among ethnic minorities, especially the African American communities who are concentrated in the county’s western edge. 

Of the county’s three current and pending casino projects, all are in economically blighted cities desperate for jobs and the promise of more money for starved city and public agency coffers: one in San Pablo, the county’s poorest community; one in the county’s second-poorest community at Point Molate in Richmond and the third, the Sugar Bowl, in unincorporated North Richmond. 


Poverty links 

According to the 2000 Census, nearly half of San Pablo residents—42.8 percent—lived in poverty, followed by Richmond with 36.3 percent, compared to a county-wide average of 18.45 percent. 

The newest county study noted that while strong correlations existed between poverty, ethnicity and gambling problems, evidence was less clear on the impact of opening a new casino—though one study noted that problem gambling rates were much higher for those living within 10 miles of a casino (7.2 percent) versus those who don’t (3.1 percent). 

As a means to minimize impacts on recipients of child welfare payments, the Abaris report recommends that the county reach an agreement with casino that cashiers will not cash welfare checks either for customers or employees. 

While noting that unemployment rates in casino cities would probably decline modestly and city tax revenues would make a similar increase, the report said they would not compensate for the variety of other negative impacts a casino brings. 


Tobacco road? 

According to a study by two economists at California State University at Sacramento, casinos account for increases in two main tax categories, tobacco taxes and room occupancy taxes. Casinos also bring increases in aggravated assaults and violent crimes and modestly increase personal bankruptcy rates. 

The issue of smoking was of special concern to the health agency because tribal lands are exempt from state anti-smoking laws. 

Workers at Casino San Pablo who have developed respiratory problems since they began working there have brought smoking-related health complaints to the county Tobacco Prevention Project, where they also reported that they fear they will be fired for taking sick days, according to the report. 

“Smoky casinos contain up to 50 times more cancer-causing airborne particles than highways and city streets clogged with diesel trucks at rush hour,” the report states. “Regular exposure at work to second-hand smoke can cause a 91 percent increase in coronary heart disease.” 

Air pollution rates in the three proposed casino communities are already ranked as significantly greater than for most cities in the county. 


Visitor impacts 

Abaris calculated that the San Pablo Casino expansion proposal, if implemented, would bring an estimated 11,000 visitors daily, accounting for four million visits annually. 

A survey of other communities with casinos and a review of published reports led the study’s authors to conclude that the increased visits would lead to 3,968 new annual visits to the emergency departments and three new ambulance runs daily. 

The study also predicts one additional injury accident daily directly attributable to an expanded casino.  

Readers can find the report online at the county website,