Casinos a Form of Government Malpractice

David Blankenhorn, Jonathan Haidt and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, The Westchester Journal News , 10/13/2013

Today, casino gambling has moved into the economically struggling neighborhoods of the working and middle class. The patrons of these new regional casinos are not high rollers who jet in from distant locales. They are low rollers who live nearby, arrive on buses or by car, and who come back again and again. The slow and steady drain of low-roller dollars makes up the large share of casino profits... Indeed, the rise of the regional casino has contributed to the growing inequality that we see in education, work, and family life. The new regional casinos are based on the idea that "if you build it, provide free alcohol, permit smoking and offer a nice buffet, local people will come and play." And they do. But proximity to a casino also increases the chances of becoming a problem gambler. Research shows that nearly half of today's casino gambling revenue comes from problem and pathological gamblers.

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Subjects: Gambling, Casinos

More by: David Blankenhorn, Jonathan Haidt and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead

Imagine that you were sick with anemia, getting weaker by the day, and your doctor prescribed bloodletting as the treatment.

It would be grounds for malpractice, since draining blood can only make things worse. Now imagine instead that you are a working-class American, falling further and further behind in our increasingly unequal society, and your state government legalizes casino gambling. It should be grounds for malpractice too.

Casino gambling used to be mainly an upper-class activity. Legal in only two places in the U.S., Nevada and Atlantic City, it attracted affluent vacationers who could travel long distances to a resort, play live table games, and lose money without losing their shirts.

Today, casino gambling has moved into the economically struggling neighborhoods of the working and middle class. The patrons of these new regional casinos are not high rollers who jet in from distant locales. They are low rollers who live nearby, arrive on buses or by car, and who come back again and again. The slow and steady drain of low-roller dollars makes up the large share of casino profits.

If you are in the upper third of the income distribution, chances are that you have rarely, if ever, set foot in one of the new regional casinos, much less spent hours pushing the buttons of a slot machine. If you are in the lower two-thirds and live in one of the 23 states with new regional casinos, chances are good that you have done so.

Indeed, the rise of the regional casino has contributed to the growing inequality that we see in education, work, and family life. The new regional casinos are based on the idea that "if you build it, provide free alcohol, permit smoking and offer a nice buffet, local people will come and play." And they do.

But proximity to a casino also increases the chances of becoming a problem gambler. Research shows that nearly half of today's casino gambling revenue comes from problem and pathological gamblers.

Moreover, if frequently visiting a regional casino is a risk factor, try working in one. Not only are the wages low and the benefits poor – the standard "bad job" package – but working in a casino also appears to increase the risk of the worker herself becoming a problem gambler.

Working in a casino also appears to elevate the risk of lung disease (most casinos allow smoking), alcohol abuse (most casinos provide free alcohol to gamblers) and sleep and eating disorders (most casinos never close, which means shift work and irregular hours for employees).

What makes this especially troubling is that regional casinos are largely the creations of state government.

They would not exist without the grant of a regional monopoly, special regulatory exemptions, and even new infusions of support when casinos face increasing competition and declining revenues.

The casinos are intended to bring in money for the state but this dynamic creates a serious conflict of interest. In their capacity as regulators, state governments are charged with protecting the public from the very business practices that generate revenue for the state and which the state is actively co-sponsoring.

Today, politicians in both red and blue states, from Mississippi to Massachusetts, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo here in New York, seem to believe that more and more casinos are the key to a better future for the struggling working and middle class. They are wrong.

It's time for a serious debate about this institution that is draining dollars and spreading addiction among citizens.

The working class and the middle class are suffering, and the bloodletting of regional casinos, prescribed by too many of our elected officials, is, in our opinion, a form of governmental malpractice.

This article originally appeared here.

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