A bet pays off: The Rivers Casino has defied the worst fears

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When casino gambling was first contemplated in Pittsburgh, critics predicted a litany of woe: more crime, snarled traffic, architectural ugliness, gambling addiction, you name it. In contrast, its supporters — this newspaper among them — touted new jobs, an economic boost and help for taxpayers.

How did it work out? The fifth anniversary of the Rivers Casino was Saturday and presented an opportunity to take stock.

As the Post-Gazette’s Mark Belko reported, the critics were wrong for the most part. While casino gambling was no cure-all (and nobody said it was, though expectations may have fed the impression), the casino is no longer troubling its North Shore neighbors as it did.

Crime? Yes, but nothing more than any big enterprise with thousands of patrons. The number of reportable incidents annually has ranged between 61 and 70 over the last three years, about one incident every five days or so. Traffic? Not bad. Eyesore? While the parking garage is not a thing of beauty, Riverlife — once an opponent — praises the casino’s efforts in improving the waterfront area. Gambling addiction? Gambler’s Anonymous thinks it is up but has no figures on that.

On top of this, the casino is successful. To be sure, it hasn’t come close to its early estimates, but it is now the third top money maker among the state’s 12 casinos, making $351.9 million in combined slots and table game revenue last year, which works out to $161.9 million in tax revenue.

Indeed, in five years, the casino estimates that it has paid $744.7 million in state and local taxes and made an additional $48.6 million in contributions, including $37.5 million for the Consol Energy Center and $3 million each to the Hill District and the Northside Leadership Conference. It also employs about 1,800 people.

Casinos are not to everyone’s taste. Those who argue that they are a form of taxation on poor patrons may have a point. In a perfect world, people would be entertained in other ways and governments would not need gambling, including the lottery, to raise revenue. But after five years in Pittsburgh, we can say that the Rivers Casino, neither a calamity nor a cure-all, has on balance proved a good bet for taxpayers.

Meet the Editorial Board.

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