There’s a scene in Albert Brooks’ 1985 comedy “Lost in America” where Brooks, playing a neurotic former advertising executive, pleads with the proprietors of a Las Vegas casino to give back the nest egg his wife gambled away at the roulette wheel.
He tells them it would be a goodwill gesture.
Of course, the owners of the casino are coldly unconvinced. They’re in the business to make money – heaps and scads of it – not to make demonstrations of benevolence to over-enthusiastic patrons.
That moment in “Lost in America” comes to mind after the news last week that Washington County, North Strabane Township and, most notably, Canon-McMillan School District, will have to give money back to Cannery Casino Resorts, the owners of The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, in order to settle a four-year-old fight over the facility’s property tax assessment. The county had pegged its value at $19.9 million, but, in 2009, then-owner Magna Entertainment Corp., argued it should be $10 million, close to half the assessed value. If the county, township and school district all agree to the settlement – Canon-McMillan’s school board has already signed off on it – a trial scheduled for September would be called off. The district would then have to credit the casino $581,646 over five years, while the county would have to fork over $680,940 and the township would have to pay $310,830.
Of course, the presence of The Meadows has been greatly beneficial to the county, as a generator of economic activity and a contributor to local coffers. Many municipalities and nonprofit organizations benefit from the local share dollars that are doled out annually. But it’s hard to avoid the feeling that, with annual gross revenue of $284 million, this is a battle The Meadows need not have picked, especially when you consider that the casino’s annual take is more than four times the annual budget of Canon-McMillan School District.
This is one instance where a goodwill gesture might have been in order.