Expanded Gambling: Think Twice Before Placing Your Bet
Legislators on Beacon Hill are looking for more revenue, and expanded gambling is rearing its ugly head again.
by John Andrews
Sen. Michael Morrissey (D-Quincy) has proposed a new gaming commission that would take bids on several sites across the state for development of large-scale casinos. And Senate President Robert Travaglini (D-East Boston) has suggested that installing slot machines at race tracks could produce revenue to preserve certain health care programs “near and dear” to the Senate. In the next few days, an attempt will be made to attach a gambling amendment to an economic stimulus bill.
So what’s wrong with seeking badly needed revenues through expanded gambling? Plenty, say those who have studied the effects of gambling in other states.
First, there are the ruined lives and destroyed families that would result from an increase in problem gamblers. Studies have found that problem gamblers increase over 200% within 50 miles of a new casino. About 5% of people gamble to excess when gambling becomes easily available. The consequences of problem gambling is severe for the gamblers and their families. It produces an increase in divorces, bankruptcies, insurance fraud, stealing from employers, child abandonment, and suicides. In Deadwood South Dakota, after two years of casino gambling, child abuse cases increased 42%. Domestic violence and assaults increased 80%.
Exploiting problem gamblers is not an afterthought of the industry – it is an integral part of their strategy for profit. It is estimated that 27% to 55% of casino revenues come from pathological and problem gamblers.
Secondly, gambling is an unfair way to raise revenues because its burden falls heavily on people in the lower part of the income spectrum. A recent study indicated that the rate of pathological or problem gambling among the top fifth of the socioeconomic ladder was 1.6 percent; while in the lowest fifth, it was 5.3 percent. For whatever reason, lower income people are more likely to get hooked by the quarter-at-a-time lure of slot machines.
Thirdly – and this is a shocker – the net cost of gambling to a state can easily exceed the revenues it generates. Economist John Kindt of the University of Illinois has calculated that for every $1 that state receives in gambling revenues, it spends at least $3 in increased criminal justice, social welfare and other costs. People who never lose a dime in slot machines wind up paying for the consequences of problem gambling.
Would gambling create jobs? Obviously, it would create jobs in the gambling industry. But it will also destroy jobs. When residents drop hundreds of millions of dollars into the slot machines, that money is taken out of the rest of the state economy. And it results in layoffs and unemployment in businesses not associated with the casinos. Amazingly, the gambling proposals in the Massachusetts legislature have never been studied to find out how many jobs they will destroy.
Expanded gambling may be a bad idea, but it should come as no surprise that so many legislators like it. During this year’s budget crisis legislators refused to repeal the billion-dollar tax breaks they had given to corporations and wealthy taxpayers, but moved quickly to impose over $600 million in fee hikes on ordinary citizens. Expanded gambling would be just another in a series of moves to do favors for politically-connected corporate interests while extracting more money from ordinary people – a quarter at a time.
Fortunately, the gambling proposals are being questioned by concerned citizens and several principled legislators. In addition to the issues cited above, human service organizations are asking how they can be expected to deal with increases in problem gamblers after absorbing the brutal budget cuts of the last two years. Massachusetts Audubon Society is warning that casino development can aggravate a host of environmental problems, especially if they evade environmental safeguards by building on Native American land. And the Grey2K organization is asking why legislators continue to prop up the greyhound racing industry that about half the voters want to see phased out.
In the end, it may boil down to a question of what type of society we want to live in. As Jill Stein, President of the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities observes “We should fully support raising revenues to maintain vital services. But necessary revenues should be raised through fair taxes that fall mostly on the wealthiest taxpayers who are not now paying their fair share. Slot machines and casino gambling are attempts to extract money from lower income people who are already paying a higher percentage of their income in fees and taxes than the wealthy. Gambling will undermine the health of our communities and in the final analysis will be a drain on the economy. More gambling is not an option that should be on the table if we care about the world we are creating for our children.”