Sunday, May 28, 2017

Guam’s dangerous debate on casinos, a preview

A prediction: Casino gambling on Saipan will lead to a casino on Guam.

I’d bet on it.

Saipan’s new casino will siphon tourist traffic. As time goes on, Guam lawmakers will face pressure to allow a casino.

What will happen in Micronesia, has happened in the U.S. Let’s take New England as an example.

Connecticut allowed casino gambling after reaching an agreement in 1992 with the Mashantucket Pequots. Slot machines were illegal in the state and the Pequots needed state approval for them. The state agreed to slot machines in exchange for 25% of the revenue.

The Pequots opened a Las Vegas-style casino, Foxwoods, which became very profitable. It was the only casino in New England.

This put pressure on neighboring states to open casinos. Rhode Island now has a casino and Massachusetts is building them as well.

In fact, Massachusetts allowed a casino in Springfield near the Connecticut border. Connecticut now wants a casino near the state line, 12 miles from Springfield's casino. The goal is to keep Connecticut gamblers from crossing the state border.

Gamblers have little loyalty to any casino. They will go to the casino closest to them. This helps drive the growth of casinos. State lawmakers don’t want their residents gambling in a neighboring state.

Guam and Saipan are only separated by 135 miles. For travelers from China and Japan there is little difference in travel time. They might as well be neighboring states.

Saipan’s Imperial Pacific may generate more investment and tourism. This may be to Guam’s disadvantage.

As Saipan tourism grows, Guam’s lawmakers will feel compelled to take up the casino issue. The arguments will be powerful. A casino will provide a viable alternative for tourists considering Saipan.

But casinos impose a terrible cost. Having a casino on Guam will lead to problem gambling. They bring ruin to vulnerable families. Casino’s operate 24 x 7. This will increase the drunk driving risks. Crime may rise as well.

Opposition on Guam to a casino will be fierce. Guam’s faith community will issue strong warnings about the damage to families. Religious leaders may succeed in holding Guam back. But the Saipan casino, especially if it's successful, will be corrosive on public debate. As time goes on, lawmaker resistance weakens.

The casino debate in Massachusetts lasted some two decades. The resistance of lawmakers to casinos has all but collapsed in America. Indeed, President Donald Trump was a casino operator.

Thanks to Saipan, a new debate about casinos on Guam is inevitable.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Guam is built to withstand disaster

I arrived on Guam from the East Coast and had never experienced an earthquake tremor. The first was in the barracks. I was on the top rack and had a clear view of the ceiling from end to end. The tremor was jarring. The two opposite ends of the barracks appeared to twist in different directions. A few things fell off the shelves. It quickly ended and it hardly got a mention from the people who had been there a while.

Low-level tremors are common on Guam. If you stay on Guam for any length of time you'll experience one. Bigger earthquakes are possible. An earthquake on August 8, 1993, reached 8.1 magnitude. It damaged some hotels and but the disruption to the island was short-lived. Much smaller earthquakes have caused more damage in the U.S.

Experiences with typhoons -- which destroyed most of the wood-framed housing -- ushered in reinforced concrete construction. Most houses on Guam are of a pillbox design, low to the ground with flat roofs, and intended to resist typhoons. This also improves their capability to withstand earthquakes.

There are few buildings on Guam that pre-date the 1960s. There is very little construction pre-dating that time period. The 1963 typhoon Karen leveled the island, literally. It destroyed 95 percent of the homes. But Guam was able to rebuild to modern standards.