Hidden social costs of predatory gambling

 

Under the rug

Under the rug

Statement of Stephen Q, Shafer MD MPH to the Gaming Facility Location Board of the New York State Gaming Commission at the hearing in Poughkeepsie on Sept 23, 2014

My name is Stephen Shafer. A retired physician who now lives in Saugerties, I am Chairperson of Coalition Against Gambling in New York. I was born and brought up in Dutchess County, where my daughter and her family now reside.

Hudson Valley Casino and Resort has presented an analysis of health impacts as incomplete as an analysis of vehicle traffic limited to trucks. The report finds regional health care facilities ready for a slight increase in physical maladies of visitors and perhaps a slightly larger population. The impact of predatory gambling on society, however, goes far beyond in-casino heart attacks, The report ignores socio-economic impacts of pathological and problem gambling such as lowered productivity at work, administration of the justice system, “abused dollars” and social services. Outside those quantifiable costs are other costs too abstract to have a dollar value. Most are related  to problem and pathological gamblers, who yield about half the revenue of the average casino. These costs include family breakup, psychological hurt, and suicide. Casino promoters are not obliged to tell you about what they call “emotional” costs when they talk money but they should tell you that predatory gambling tolls society in estimatable dollars much more than the trifle Hudson Valley Casino concedes.

The application is mute on how many new problem gamblers and addicted gamblers a casino in Newburgh might generate, It gives not even an order of magnitude figure for the annual cost to society associated with each new problem or pathological gambler.  The only costs acknowledged due to gambling are for treatment and prevention. It is assumed that all foreseeable increases in these costs due to the casino would be covered by present Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services programs plus an annual 1.5 million dollars to be collected by the state for treatment and prevention from 3000 gambling positions @$500/yr. The report writer must think this money would go back to Orange County dollar for dollar. Not so; it would be divvied up across the state.

The applicant is wrong to pretend that 1.5 million dollars would begin to cover the socio-economic costs attendant on a new casino in Newburgh.  Here is one estimate of the quantifiable socio-economic costs, neither best-case nor worst-case:

Within a fifty mile radius of the proposed site live at least 2.5 million adults. At least 1.14% (28,500) of them are pathological gamblers now [ Shaffer et al meta-analysis ref 1 ]. If the allure of a Newburgh casino were to notch up the 1.14% by just 15%, that’s 4275 new pathological gamblers. If the quantifiable socioeconomic cost per year of one pathological gambler is 12,790 dollars ( Grinols ref 2 ) the total cost for new pathological gamblers only (not counting problem gamblers) would be $54.7 million/year.

My attack on this proposal does not mean that I think there’s a proposal in Region 1 or anywhere in the state that has such a better analysis of societal health costs and benefits that it merits a license instead of Hudson Valley Casino.   A cost-benefit analysis that gave due regard to societal health would find that none of the sixteen proposals passes. The Upstate Gaming Act authorized up to four casinos in “upstate;” it did not mandate them. No proposed casino deserves a license.  Thank you.

The opinions expressed  are the speaker’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of any or all members of Coalition Against Gambling in New York .  Permission is granted to reproduce text or image in whole or part as long as the permalink above is cited.