06/09/2005 11:00PM

Gaming world shouldn't cross community line


The gaming market in Las Vegas has been closely monitored and, to this point, respectful of existing businesses, neighborhoods, and families. Areas are zoned for either residential or light industrial, or for commercial, tourism, and gaming.

That's why I chuckle when visitors ask me how I can raise a family in a gambling mecca like Las Vegas. What they don't realize is gaming is restricted into certain areas only.

Sure there are locals giants Station Casinos and the Boyd Gaming/Coast Resorts partnership. To their credit, even though they wield enormous power, they use a light touch in dealing with nearby residents.

That's why a move by a developer to bring casino gaming to the Chinatown district has me troubled. The Las Vegas Chinatown, which is centered on Spring Mountain Road west of Interstate 15, is one of the city's fastest growing ethnic communities. As someone who has enjoyed the Chinatown areas in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, I see the Chinatown here has unlimited potential.

It appears that developer Spring Mountain Wynn Investments and County Commissioner Lynette Boggs McDonald see the same thing and want to cash in. Last month, at a public meeting held at the Harbor Palace restaurant in the heart of Chinatown, a proposal was made to build the Dragon City Hotel and Resort on 20 acres near the intersection of Spring Mountain and Wynn Road. The resort would be a 17-story, 2,500-unit condominium complex with the option of gaming, and that's where the kicker comes in.

Chinatown is zoned for light industrial use, which is why the area is populated by low-rise strip malls that include restaurants and small shops. New businesses are opening every day and thriving. Nearby homes and apartment buildings provide affordable living for thousands of Asian residents. The rent for a typical apartment here is $800 a month.

As with every Las Vegas community, land values are skyrocketing. Now an ambitious developer acting with the county wants to change the zoning ordinance to commercial, tourism, and gaming. The change would allow big buildings and casino gaming and change the neighborhood completely.

"People are always fascinated by Chinatowns in large cities," said Susan Hunt-Krygiell, a managing member of Spring Mountain Wynn Investments, to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "We want to help create a place where they could experience the restaurants, the shops, the entertainment, and the overall feel of Chinatown."

Andrew Lai, another partner in Spring Mountain Wynn Investments, added, "China has 1.4 billion people. If just 1 percent of them eventually come here, it would be 14 million visitors."

But why would Chinese tourists travel halfway around the world to visit another city's Chinatown? Also, the philosophy of big casinos is to offer amenities and services so varied that guests never leave the property.

This is simply a money grab that would ruin a community forever. The issue will come before the Clark County Commission on Aug. 3, when I hope saner minds will step forward to preserve the quality of life over the building of another casino resort.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.