Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. has estimated its Cape Girardeau project would cost $125 million to develop and employ 450 to 500 people. In an application to state gambling regulators, Isle of Capri predicts it will attract 1 million visitors per year from six states and boost city and county tax rolls by $3 million.
The de facto capital of southeastern Missouri, Cape Girardeau has a population of 38,000 and is located about halfway between St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn. Unemployment in the region is high, at 8.2 percent, but it's lower than the state's overall rate of 9.3 percent.
Business has flourished along a highway cutting through the city, where chain restaurants, hotels and new developments have sprung up.
But the city's downtown has struggled, and vacant buildings are interspersed among Main Street's eateries, bars and antique shops. The problem is most evident in the downtown area near the proposed casino site, where boarded up buildings and some rundown houses are separated from an empty field by a road. The casino would go where an old factory once produced shoes.Summers said the hope is that the casino will help spark the downtown district. He says the key for supporters is to ensure voters know what the casino could bring to Cape Girardeau. "There's ethical and moral arguments, but from a business standpoint, I think it's pretty cut and dry," Summers said. "If this were a Walmart or some other type of organization, I don't think there would be the opposition." But it is a casino, and that is a big problem for some. "For a gambling casino boat to succeed in Cape, thousands of people are going to have to lose millions of dollars," said Austin, who refers to a casino as a "cancerous growth" that would bring a lot of problems.