A recent economic study has found that Chumash Casino Resort has contributed millions of dollars to the county economy and created hundreds of new jobs, but some claim that the cost of gambling-based income is too high.
The county-sponsored study, compiled by the California Economic Forecast, was designed to observe the impacts of the Santa Ynez casino’s posted $366 million gross revenue. The results indicated that the casino was indirectly responsible for the creation of 703 new jobs in Santa Barbara County and paid out $35 million in taxes to federal, state and local governments each year.
CEF economist Mats Olson said the findings show that Chumash Casino Resort was the single largest private employer in the county and the second fastest growing.
However, in light of recent gaming expansion, 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said he was apprehensive at the figures. He said the study actually shows the growth in California’s reliance upon gambling income. He said he felt uneasy that such a powerful industry was in the hands of so few people.
“The issue before us is expansion of this activity – the recent propositions granted significant expansions to five tribal gaming entities to the extent of 5,000 more slot machines,” Firestone said. “California is becoming a Nevada-type gaming state with a strict monopoly granted to a very limited group of people.”
The study focused on the years between 2001 and 2006, and was funded by the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association at a cost of almost $20,000. County Taxpayers Association Executive Director Joe Armendariz said the CEF study focused on the use of the casino’s money currently and does not attempt to evaluate the question of expansion.
“Our study doesn’t take a stance on whether expansion is good or bad, or even whether expansion is a possibility or not,” Armendariz said. “It’s looking at the existing infrastructure, it’s looking at the existing footprint and what it’s generating now. People can extrapolate and say if 2,000 slots generates $366 million in annual economic impact, what would 5,000? And is that good? Well, there are some who will say that it is good, and some who will say it is not.”
However, Firestone also said that casinos like Chumash enjoy a lack of accountability. According to Firestone, no state or county regulations exist for the reservation Chumash Casino Resort is planted on. As such, he said that any grievances over the gaming industry could not be dealt with on a local level, because policies can only change on the federal level.
“The county or even the state have very little control over the activities on this reservation,” Firestone said. “There is no planning or land control on the reservation. I think that everyone pretty well believes that people should be taxed equally, but we have no tax authority over this entity.”
Representatives from Chumash Casino would not comment on the study.
However, Olson said that the study appears to portray the casino’s presence in the community as a good thing – a factor for which the study was not thorough enough to make an adequate judgment, he said.
“All you can really say is that there were positive economic impacts from job creation and tax receipts, but you can’t necessarily say that it’s a net benefit or a good thing,” Olson said.