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A casino at National Harbor: Sure, let’s put even more strain on Pepco

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Published on: Monday, October 29, 2012

By Margie Burns

This column is being written while I still have electricity and the use of my computer. With Hurricane Sandy and its combination of storms bearing down, a power outage may be only hours away.

The upside: With the storms approaching so slowly, advance warning has been disseminated for many hours. Preparations, as they say at the National Hurricane Center, are being rushed to completion.

The downside: While our televisions still work, we are still inundated with false pro-gambling claims. Big letters on screen: “One billion dollars for our schools.”

The notion that more gambling will result in netting more dollars for education, as some of our public officials have claimed, is false on its face. Gambling interests have already negotiated their take from previous deals upward. You don’t hear of a casino operator coming back to a state’s governor, or to the legislature, and offering to take less of a percentage. Gambling interests and their allies in state government, and their lobbyists, have repeatedly negotiated the cut going to education downward. That is the action of time passing, in regard to gambling. That is the history. That is the predictable pattern. The cut going to the casinos goes up; the cut going to schools goes down.

And how do we know that will happen again? Simple. Our political leadership in state office, or in county office, has not gotten a guarantee in writing.

Meanwhile, speaking of costs-benefits analysis, the costs of gambling to the public also increase. The drain on public resources for law enforcement goes up year by year, as gambling inevitably becomes connected to crime, organized or not; becomes connected to domestic violence; becomes connected to substance abuse. The drain on public resources in other ways goes up, too, including in connection with the environment.

There is a logical segue here from casinos to electricity, power outages — and Pepco. No one seems to be mentioning in public that the proposed casino at National Harbor would be in Pepco’s customer base. My aim in writing here is not to trash Pepco, but—let’s face it — Pepco has repeatedly demonstrated its problems with supply even in present conditions. How could Pepco supplying electricity to a huge casino possibly help the company’s existing customers?

Be it noted that a large slots operation — which is basically what the proposed gambling legislation boils down to — does not tend to have environmentally-friendly features. A casino cannot shut down; power-saving mode when not in play is limited at best. Casinos and slots have to keep the old razzle-dazzle going 24/7. Otherwise, they would not continue to entice customers. Saving power is not big in the picture.

A casino draws gargantuan energy loads. As one Canadian source notes, casinos obviously draw extremely heavy energy loads to power elaborate lighting — both decorative and utility. It has to power hundreds or — in the case of a Prince George’s casino — thousands of slot machines. It has to power nonstop, round-the-clock gaming, entertainment and surveillance. The overall energy burden also extends to heating and cooling, air circulation and replacement, and the adjoining restaurants, bars and hotel space if any.

There is exactly no chance — given the track record of our state and county officials in dealing with the gambling industry — that the environmental cost would not be borne by the public. In this non-green environment, slots by any computation take an enormous amount of electricity, even when not in play. One casino operator has estimated that his business uses more than 100,000 megawatt hours a year at gaming sites. The Monte Carlo Casino & Resort reportedly spends $5 million per year on electricity, or about $416,667 per month.

In fact, the consumption of power resources by casinos is so notorious that even the Environmental Protection Agency under the George W. Bush administration issued a fact sheet on it. Not that the 2007 EPA cracked down, mind you, but even Bush appointees noted the problem. Strange that some of our current office holders have yet to notice it.

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