The 5 Bitter Lessons From Losing the Casino in Town of Florida, City of Amsterdam, Montgomery COunty

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Money Trumps Politics — self-evident: you can’t leave $25 million off the table no matter what case you might make for the local poverty rate, the unemployment rate and the economic impact. If you sat on the Gambling Commission Board, you would reach the same conclusion.

Competition is Fierce — if you look at the messaging from the investment group (to paraphrase: “we want more time and we’ll offer you $25 million less for giving us more time and we’re not sure we can even make money with this casino” ) and the quality of their submitted proposal, it falls far short of a competitive effort. It simply is not nearly good enough especially when you can’t even bother to provide the proper number of copies of something — that’s just embarassing. In fact, the messaging and pathetic proposal from the investors actually hurts our area more than it helps: it hurts the reputations of many local leaders who backed this proposal and cost them some political capital to have to champion such a weak bid in such a high profile competitive situation.

Outside Investors Matter — this process should be a wake-up call for the prevailing mindset that we don’t need to lure outside investors to turn things around. We desperately need outside investors even when they may fall short or fail. On first blush, this might be considered as counter to my ‘Competition is Fierce’ lesson: it is not. We need more outside investors who will help us compete against other locales also chasing the same growth and opportunities we seek.

Public Agencies Are Not Enough — by most measures, it appears that the level of collaboration amongst the various  public agencies and leaders worked well for this endeavor. Typically, this has not been the case on promoting economic development objectives so it is a bright spot in this ordeal. However, as this case shows, you just can’t have public sector as the solution; you need private sector too. Sure, I harp on our public agencies and leaders incessantly but it is also clear that the private sector matters too. We just can’t rely on public agencies to solve everything. Note: this is also different than the prevailing sentiment that public agencies can do nothing right, only the private sector can — you actually need both.  Here’s a model for how that might work. 

You Can’t Bet All Your Chips on One Hand — now that the casino is dead, the question remains: what next? It’s clear that the opprtunities for hundreds of millions in development are few and far between. If so, then it is also clear that there needs to be a portfolio of economic developments on a number of fronts — you just can’t pursue one thing. As happened here, if that one thing fails to come about, you have nothing else. It’s crucial that economic development be pursed as a portfolio of opprtunities such that if one does not work out, you have several more which might. I’d take ten $1 million dollar opportunities to one $10 million opportunity any day.

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