Barden's former spokesman, Bob Oltmanns, makes the case:
From my front-row seat to the Pittsburgh casino saga, I can say without reservation that Don Barden is a good and decent man. He's the kind of guy Pittsburgh used to embrace, yet from Day One he was maligned, criticized and disparaged by rumor and innuendo and never got the benefit of the doubt that he deserved. He may have made some missteps, but his ultimate shortcoming was that he did not have the financial wherewithal to overcome an historic decline in the credit market ... I know he wanted to go on fighting. It's in his DNA. But in the end, he did what he knew he had to do to keep hard-working construction families from getting hurt, and he put Pittsburgh ahead of a dream to which he had devoted five years of his life.
And for that, Pittsburgh ran him out of town.
Literally from the very hour that Mr. Barden was awarded Pittsburgh's gaming license, he was castigated as the guy who would cost Pittsburgh its National Hockey League franchise because his proposal did not include full funding for a new Penguins arena. [Later], the competitors for the Pittsburgh gaming license, Isle of Capri and Station Square Gaming/Harrah's, appealed the gaming board's decision in favor of Mr. Barden to the state Supreme Court, delaying the project by six months and pushing it into the worst credit crisis since the Great Depression. This ultimately doomed Mr. Barden's attempt to secure permanent financing.
[Month after month], new obstacles were thrown in Mr. Barden's way and new demands placed on him. He was criticized for resisting the public process, when precisely the opposite was true. Mr. Barden depended on the public process to ensure that the license applications were reviewed fairly and honestly, and he followed the rules of law and procedure to the letter. In return, he became the defendant of a public process run amok. If any private development project in the history of this city has ever been subjected to such ever-changing standards and demands, I've not seen it.
[It] was hypocrisy that drove Don Barden from this community and, as a Pittsburgher, I'm ashamed at the treatment he received. The economy and credit crisis merely offered cover to those committed to seeing him fail. He's a good man who will be missed, and Pittsburgh is the lesser for his departure.
Many fair points from Mr. Oltmanns, but here's a question -- why would anyone have expected smooth sailing? Did Mr. Barden really think that the construction of a casino in an urban area -- the very first casino in Pittsburgh -- would not be met with political resistanace? With interference from community groups? Lawsuits from neighbors and business foes? Maybe it's that simple in Las Vegas, but from Buffalo to New Orleans, from Philadelphia to San Francisco, experience tell us that casinos are nearly always controversial projects, and construction timelines are often delayed by years. Mr. Barden may have been unfairly villified to some extent, but he was also uncommonly naive if he truly believed that he'd have his casino up and running by March 2008 (his original projection, just 15 months after winning the casino license)
... See what I mean? It's rarely easy:
"The Seneca Nation of Indians has suspended construction activity for two of its high-profile construction projects, including the controversial Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo. While the Seneca Nation pinpoints the decision on a weakened economy, others suggest the decision concerning the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino may be related to on-going litigation from anti-casino forces. The suspension of the construction projects comes one day after U.S. Federal Judge William Skretny enforced an earlier ruling that gaming operations in Buffalo were being run from a previous 'arbitrary and capricious' decision by the National Indian Gaming Commission. Skretny ordered the NIGC to make its final determination about the fate of Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino soon."
Dispatches from the border
Big news from Atlantic City -- if you were hoping for slot machines at racetracks:
"Slot parlors in Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware have been chipping away at Atlantic City's business, but at least the casinos no longer have to worry about losing their customers to New Jersey racetracks. After more than a year of negotiations, the casinos have finally wrapped up an agreement with the horseracing industry to block slot machine-like video lottery terminals at the tracks, a casino representative said Wednesday. The agreement, signed Aug. 13 without fanfare and with no public announcement, requires the casinos to pay the tracks $90 million over the next three years in exchange for a moratorium on VLTs."
... Atlantic City's losing hand: "For years, casino executives have acknowledged that Atlantic City needed to become a destination resort. Its future prosperity depended on making the town more than just home to a slew of gambling halls. But to date that hasn't happened. And now that there's competition, Atlantic City executives don't have a reasonable answer to the guy who wonders why he should drive all the way to Atlantic City to play the slots when he can do that closer to home. Skimping on the comps only provides another disincentive."
Odds and ends
Maybe some of that casino revenue should go toward improving health care ... Harrah's will run a new casino in Kansas ... The Philly Inquirer editorializes on the recent Supreme Court decision ... Las Vegas Sands, which will operate the Bethlehem, Pa., casino, is looking to build in India ... Greektown casino in Detroit adds 600 slot machines ... Isle of Capri set to release its quarterly results ...
Gamblers aren't losing quite enough money in Kansas City:
"Lawmakers' failure to lift casino loss limits has prompted Kansas City's Ameristar Casino to put the question on the ballot in November. In return for the removal of the $500 loss limits, casinos are willing to up their tax rate a percentage point and prohibit the building of any more casinos in the state to pit fears of gambling expansion."