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Rural Iowa, you’re no Las Vegas


Las Vegas was a nondescript town in the desert that went all-out for gambling. Gambling made Las Vegas fabulously wealthy.

Lots of people seem to think that the next logical statement in this series would be: “Therefore, any town in Iowa can get rich from gambling.”

It may be time to think a little harder about the differences between Las Vegas and Emmetsburg.

When Vegas first rolled the dice, gambling was a special, secretive thrill, and people who fancied themselves high rollers were willing to get on an airplane and make a pilgrimage to the middle of nowhere.

Now Iowans can gamble anywhere, if they’re willing to settle for a lottery ticket, and can probably find a casino within an hour of home, if a little more action is required.

In Las Vegas and a few other cities that had the field to themselves for so long, sideshows sprang up. Gambling became linked in our minds with music and glamour, and we came to think of it as part of a total escape into fantasy.

That’s not going to happen in Emmetsburg.

The early entries in the gambling game were able to drag in large amounts of money from somewhere else. Las Vegas’ wads of cash came from Los Angeles, Denver, Des Moines, wherever. This is the truly crucial distinction, because even if it’s clear to everyone that small-town Iowa will never be glamorous, some people might not have accepted the fact that we’re talking about two different kinds of money. Outside money – somebody else’s money — is worth far more to a local or regional economy than money that just flows in an endless circle from paycheck to gas station to paycheck to grocery store, etc.

Iowa would be in sorry shape if we had just sold our corn and washing machines and insurance policies within the state over the past century. Our products had to enter the national and world markets to build a strong economy here.

If a number of Iowa’s towns pursue new casinos, as the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission now allows, they’ll be using a different model. Gamblers will stay close to home, and each casino will skim most of its money from the people who said they were slowly going out of business in the first place..

Times have changed, and gambling boosters from Iowa’s rural areas say they need to find new ways to survive. They sure do. And they need to keep looking.

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