PALM SPRINGS — Bruised and left hangdog by a lousy economy--even I. Magnin moved down the highway to greener pastures in Palm Desert--folks in this proud desert resort city have suddenly turned optimistic. Almost gleeful.
Big-bucks bingo is coming to town, and even if the local folks are not grabbing their grease markers just yet, they are animated about how the embers of an anemic economy will be stirred up and maybe--just maybe--reignite the town's tourism trade.
"The economy of this town stinks, and anything that will bring people here is good," said store owner Arthur Hersh.
The city is abuzz with last week's news that the Agua Caliente Indian tribe, landlords of much of the cityscape, plan to open a high-stakes gambling casino in conjunction with Caesars World Inc.
City officials and business leaders, who were out of the decision-making loop, say the $20-million, 80,000-square-foot Caesars casino--with stores, restaurants and entertainment--will provide a desperately needed boost to the city's ailing economy.
"I'm against gambling, but if it has to be, then I'm glad it'll be in Palm Springs," said Mayor Lloyd Maryanov, an accountant. "This is an exciting opportunity."
Business people say they too are looking forward to the arrival of the casino.
"Palm Springs has been in a sad state for several years," said realty agent Manny Segall. "Everyone has been moving down the (Coachella) Valley. This town just isn't energetic anymore. Some people want to keep it a quaint little town--and it's killing the place.
"Now we'll have a high-class operation. With the Indians in control, it'll be first-class," Segall said.
The Desert Sun, the local newspaper, cooed in an editorial applauding the venture: "It's a bold stroke that puts the Agua Calientes--and Palm Springs--in the major leagues of the gaming world."
Other residents, however, are not convinced that a casino belongs here--even if the city has too many T-shirt souvenir shops where high-end retailers once stood.
"They say it'll help the economy, but to me it means more traffic, and we have enough traffic as it is," groused cabinetmaker Cy Elder, a 14-year resident. "I could care less about bingo, and it's just going to bring in that many more people. I don't need it."
Retiree John Parker said: "I just hate to see that element come to town. We came out here from Los Angeles to get away from all that stuff. Graffiti. Carjackings. People shooting each other.
"When you get people gambling, and they lose money they can't afford to lose, then what happens is that desperate people do desperate things."
His wife, Marilyn, said: "Everything about the casino is counter to what Palm Springs is about: quiet, comfortable, relaxed. Now those people are going to go somewhere else, because they'll want nothing to do with this."
Some people just shrug at the news. "I could care less," said Deedee Timothy, busy folding laundry for her four young children, ages 4 to 11. "I mean, how's it going to benefit me?"
Will the proximity of gambling influence her young brood? "Hey, what goes on in the world, they see on TV anyway. They've already seen it all."
But the overall reaction in town--from waitresses to store owners to business leaders--is that what is good for the Agua Caliente Indians is good for Palm Springs. Besides, they say, if it's good for the Indians, they'll do it anyway because they've got the sovereign right to do as they will.
"The economic impact on the city will be noticeable within nine to 12 months of when it opens," said Jerry London, a resident and retired radio broadcaster who has managed four of his own bingo operations on Indian reservations in recent years.
"Agua Caliente is one of the most entrepreneurial tribes in the country. They've already got hotels, restaurants, golf. They're pretty sharp," London said. "With the casino, we'll re-establish this area as the glamour area, one more time. It'll be a major tourist attraction--and, from the city's point of view, it's a freebie."
The Agua Caliente reservation was laid out checkerboard fashion over much of the Coachella Valley long before the development of Palm Springs. Today the tribe and some of its members own several of Palm Springs' prime properties, which they lease to some of the biggest names in town, including top-drawer hotels and the Palm Springs Convention Center.
The guessing now is about where the casino will be built, and popular speculation--the Indians and Caesars are not talking--is that the gaming hall will end up alongside the historic Spa Hotel, smack downtown on Indian land. Construction is expected to take 18 months.
"It's within a mile of the airport and close to thousands of hotel rooms," London said. "I'm sure it'll at least end up in Palm Springs and not somewhere else in the valley, because \o7 everybody \f7 knows Palm Springs. We've got the name, and they'll capitalize on it."