At the risk of pissing off most of the state, especially the folks in Roanoke I have a solution to Virginia's money problems...allow casinos. The first place I'd put one is on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Explore Park. You all know that Vander Maten is not going to do jackshit with that land, no matter how many more extensions he gets. His "family destination," which I always thought would be RV World, is not gonna happen. The "living museum" that once stood there had its day. It was okay, but that's it, just okay. I went there enough times when my kids were in elementary school to know that one visit there was enough. It was...ummmm...freaking boring! Even the kids who would use any excuse to get out of class were bored.
As less and less state money found its way to the park not only were programs cut back but the people who worked there had become surly and cranky, telling the kids stuff like..."We have no more cows because the state took them away," or "We used to have a pig but we had to eat him because the state wouldn't give us food." Ok, that's a little exaggerated but you get the point. By the third time my kids were slated to go on a field trip there during a rainstorm in the cold early spring, they were in tears begging me not to make them go. "I'm scared of the blacksmith!" "Last time I was there I got stung by the yellow jacks near the garbage!" "That three-legged goat gave me nightmares!" I kept them home. When I heard they closed it down, I said a silent cheer that my kids wouldn't be tortured any more. I know I'm in the minority here, but that's not unusual so I don't really care.
Then I heard Explore Park got a savior...some developer from Florida who was going to do wonderful, but top secret things with it. I watched the price tag start at $20million and then rise to like $200million over the years, with not a shovel of dirt moved on his mystery project. I suspected this developer was full of shit the first time I heard him and couldn't believe so many people were being duped by his pie in the sky dreams. But this is Roanoke so I really shouldn't have been surprised. Finally the powers that be are beginning to smell the coffee that Vander Maten is not going to come through and think they need a "Plan B." If I ran the valley my Plan B would be a casino.
A local internet parlor right here in Roanoke County just paid the County over $20,000 for its yearly business license. That means he has to make at least a couple of million bucks a year. It's one little parlor in the middle of nowhere that probably gets most of its business serving on-line gamblers. Do you know how much money Virginia could make if they allowed legalized slot machines and gaming tables? Megamillions!
Casinos don't have to be sleazy. It could be done with class, like West Virginia has done with the Greenbriar. Design a nice spa resort somewhere like say on the Blue Ridge Parkway where Explore Park used to be. There's plenty of land to work with. Add a first class restaurant, some outdoor activities, the often spoke-of zip line, a horse trail, a bike trail, an observation telescope, walking trails, fishing spots, maybe an amphitheatre...you know, make it family friendly, and voila you have a cash cow. Make everyone happy by using "green technology." Think of all the jobs it would create from construction to completion. Amtrak would finally make a stop in Roanoke. I know plenty of people who go to West Virginia, Indiana and Atlantic City to play. Why not keep the money here? That land up there is just wasting away...put it to good use already!
The time is now for exploring casinos...wake up Virginia and smell the money!