Whose Problem are Problem Gamblers ?

Central Statistic

Graphic by Dave Colavito, 2014 data from Grinols and Omorov 1996-97

On 24 April 2014  I sent to the Director for Policy,  Development and External Affairs of the NYS Gaming Commission the following  e-note with two attachments, one of which was   posted yesterday on the CAGNY web site below a copy of the April 24  cover e-note, repeated here.

Dear Sir,

Attached are two documents I earnestly hope the Chairman and all the Commissioners will read carefully and discuss with the  GFLB.  Both are about “problem gambling,” the subject of the April 9 forum convened by the Gaming Commission. Watching the videotape and reading the transcript (everyone should thank the GC for providing these so fast) I saw  that “problem gambling” was an elusive term.  The extreme importance to the casino economy of net losses from problem gamblers was nowhere mentioned except when the speaker from Caesars deflected  the issue.  Yet around the “central statistic of casino revenues,” on which I have written to the Commission, is the “central dilemma” of regulation: the better the regulation is at preventing problem gambling, the lower is the casinos’ profit margin.

Selected prevalence statistics were presented as if they are the be-all and the end-all of gambling behavior studies.  They are about all we have, but a poor stand-in for what we really want to know about time trends in social impacts, i.e.  incidence and duration.  Under the placid surface of what looks like stable prevalence,  much new damage continues; as problem gamblers recover or die, new ones must be recruited to take their places.

As I have offered before, I’m  [ready]  almost any time to meet with the Commissioners and staff to explain the critiques in more detail and to talk about “the central statistic.”

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely, etc.

Stephen Q. Shafer, MD, MA,  MPH Chairperson, Coalition Against Gambling in New York 917 453 7371 http://cagnyinf.org  [ Cover note ends here]

 

No surprise,  the Commission has not responded to these  unsolicited comments. Does that mean the Commissioners have all accepted the assurances (see below) of  the Executive from Caesars Entertainment that the organization does not make money from “problem gamblers” and does ” not want them in [their] venues?”  If yes, it is a monumental  mistake.  I cannot speak for Caesars Entertainment in particular, but it would  be unique  if it does not make money from what most people call problem gamblers To  wrongly  assume Ms Shatley’s artful  discounting  of problem gamblers fits all casinos  would be an easy stretch  to make,  even if Caesars is unique. It would be worse yet if the attitude “casinos don’t want problem gamblers” were communicated to the Gaming Facilities Location Board members.  The GFLB is charged to consider plans by applicants to address problem gambling. The Board must understand how important problem gamblers are to the casino exchange.

Below is the text of the second attachment  that was sent to the Gaming Commission  on April 24, slightly revised.  The text of the other attachment sent the same day  was posted yesterday on this web site along with the cover e-note.

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Disposition of Revenues from Casino Taxes: a Projection

 

Goya:  El Sueno de Razon

Goya: El Sueno de la Razon Produce Monstruos

 

 

 

Disposition of Revenues to New York State Residents from Casino Taxes per Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013: a Projection

 

 

 

On Monday, Sept 23 2013 at 12:01 AM EDT,  Coalition Against Gambling in New York released a report of high interest to all New York State voters and taxpayers.  Governor Cuomo has touted the proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize casinos as a benefit to all New Yorkers.  Now dubbed “Proposal One,”  it will be presented with heavy bias on the ballot for  a “yes” vote. Click on the link right below to read opinion of the NY Daily News about the ballot langauge.  http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/house-wins-article-1.1454344

The framers of “Proposal One”  must hope voters won’t have thought about pros and cons until they enter the booth.  To counter this deliberate neglect by the casino promoters, we made conservative assumptions to project the impact of the amendment’s  passage on property tax bills around  the state. 

In our projections, if the amendment passes, the  benefits (as property tax relief or aid to education) to individuals from taxes on casinos’ gaming revenue would vary enormously (by more than twenty-fold) from place to place.   The size of these disparities is not rationalized in the legislation that prescribes them.   These tax relief measures if enacted  would hardly change the personal property tax situation for a majority of the state’s population.   We project, for example,  that if 80% of  the taxes paid to the state by four  exceptionally busy new casinos  were disbursed uniformly to the  whole state entirely as property tax relief, residents of “downstate” (NYC, L.I., Westchester, Rockland and Putnam) would have just $20  of relief per adult per year.    The “relief” to more than 99% of taxpayers if the amendment passes would  be less than the conservatively-projected  increase in hidden quantifiable social costs of legalized gambling to be expected from adding “up to seven”  new casinos.  In short, for almost all New Yorkers in relation to taxes cons >> pros.

Readers can develop their own scenarios and projections using our straightforward methods.  

Click on the link to see a pdf of the 22-page report, divided into Summary, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusions and Appendix.     UNYGEDASept22_Final

This version varies slightly from that sent to members of the press and other media on Sept 18 in advance of release to the public in early morning of Monday Sept 23.  Changes are shown at the end.  

Opinions in this piece are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of any or all other members of Coalition Against Gambling in New York. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this post  in whole or part as long as there is a citation to the permalink above. Corresponding author is Dave Colavito ddcolavito@gmail.com .  You may request a pdf version of the report by e-mail.

 

 

 

Problem Gambling Misery Summated

 

Graphic by Dave Colavito

Graphic by Dave Colavito

      The central statistic of casino finances is that 50% of taxable revenue comes from pathological and problem gamblers, about 4% of adults.  One evil of casino gambling is that almost none of the money that these unfortunate persons leave at casinos belongs clearly to them alone unless they have recently, and legally,  become very rich, without dependents.  Thus 50% of pre-tax revenue, more than 50% of profit, has been diverted from persons who may never have gambled, innocent bystanders or co-dependents.  Spouses, children, siblings, parents, employers, employees, clients – these are just a few examples.  The typical gambling addict is into eight, twelve, fifteen other people whom he or she will serially sacrifice to “the chase,” usually until it has consumed the gambler and destroyed all good social and emotional relationships.

     Most residents of the U.S. can recite that gambling addiction is a true addiction. Secretly, however, many believe it is a moral failing or a defect in reasoning that deserves catastrophe.  They rationalize that, if everyone can avoid a small increase in  personal tax outlays by the exenterating exploitation of the 4% who are problem gamblers,  that’s a win for the other 96%.   This “devil take the hindmost” approach may look utilitarian.  It does not take account of the dozen or more people around each problem gambler who are wrung out fiscally and emotionally in the quest for “more revenue to education.”  See the April 15 post “Robbing Peter” on this web site. 

      To comprehend the total misery dealt out by predatory gambling to a specified group of individuals would need much study. Consensus would be unlikely.  Economists like Earl Grinols have painstakingly  presented harm in terms of dollars.  While we respect this completely for cost-benefit analysis, we have always noted that  it understates the total impact, which is a stew of fiscal loss and emotional hurt.  Quantifying in an entire population the cumulative lifetime misery associated with problem gambling so as to reach consensus is impossible.  There are two aspects, however,  that everyone can agree on qualitatively.  First, the problem gambler alone does not sustain or mete out all the damage; second, not all the damage can be measured  econometrically.

          The graphic above, realized by Dave Colavito,  is an abstraction, not data-based.  It shows that the high casino profits due to problem gamblers,  which are taxed into “revenues to education” via gambling “regulated” or operated by state government come at the expense  — literal and figurative — of many more parties than those individual gamblers.  The “iceberg”  (actually it looks  more like a volcano rising above the waves from the ocean floor ) schematizes lifetime gambling-related cumulative misery as a function of psychosocial closeness to a problem gambler.  The problem gambler is the red apex.  The strata of adjoining locations represent lifetime cumulative misery of other parties at varying psychosocial distances from the problem gambler.  The anguish of a wife who has seen the furniture sold, the children made homeless and the husband she still tries to love gone  or jailed will be more than that of a client cheated or a friend whose loan to “help pay my kid’s doctor bill” is never repaid.  There are, however,  more clients and friends around a problem gambler than spouses.  Integrated  over all these more distant persons, the totality of hurt and loss is likely to exceed that of the very nearest and dearest. 

          However we define misery –as pure fiscal deprivation or that plus emotional damage  — it is not “just” the problem gambler who loses something lifelong  in the havoc of out-of-control gambling.  It is a dozen or more other people, whether innocent,  trusting, co-dependent or any combination. To the  casinos that prey on problem gamblers and governments that get income therefrom, these people are chopped liver.

Three references about impact on families http://s3.amazonaws.com/publicationslist.org/data/philip.darbyshire/ref-36/JGS%20gambling%20paper.pdf 

http://www.problemgambling.ca/gambling-help/support-for-families/effects-on-families.aspx

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17667890 

Permission is given by Cagnyeditor to reproduce this in full or part as long as the permalink above is cited and the graphic is attributed to Dave Colavito.

Crapping Out in New York: For Education

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By Dave Colavito.  first published in Huffington Post July 12 

Whether NY voters consent to amend the state constitution to expand gambling is something that will likely be decided in November. What’s certain is “Gambling for Education” will remain a trusted brand for Governor Cuomo and his handlers. The problem is the subtext: Gambling is Good for the Kids — unlike adequate nutrition, adolescent problem gambling won’t help build strong bodies or healthy minds.

Most adults appreciate the invaluable service carnival barking provides in the service of Albany’s gambling policies — how else do you keep convincing losers they’ll win, so long as they keep losing? But when it comes to educating the kids, voters know the importance of leading by example. So before heading to the polls in November, it’s worth considering whether more of the Albany example is really in their best interest.

State-sponsored gambling is already here, as are other permitted activities. But a proposal for the state-sponsored expansion of say, cigarette smoking or sugary junk food in schools would be roundly rejected and hailed as a public policy victory. Why — not everyone eating such junk food becomes diabetic, and its marketing surely contributes to the state’s economy and creates jobs? The answer assuredly has to do with education. And though Albany is a partner in educating children, it’s a deeply conflicted partner by virtue of its promotion of gambling.

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Invest in Recovery

 

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Dusk on the Neversink
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Dave Colavito, at a CAGNY press conference in Albany on 4 June  2013,  presented this outline of a just scheme that would save NYS more than the hidden quantifiable socio-economic costs generated by legalized gambling each year.

  • The first step in helping local economies: Don’t make them worse.  Yet the Gov.’s plan will do just that, because it ignores the financial cost of gambling disorders.
  • Socioeconomic costs of gambling in NYS are now estimated at $3.7 billion annually
    • Exceeds revenues from all Atlantic City casinos in 2012
    • 381,000 Problem and 172,500 Pathological gambler costs burden all NYers
    • Gov.’s plan will produce more people (and costs) with gambling disorders.
    • FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE ALTERNATIVE: NYS INVESTS in RECOVERY, not CASINOS
      • Stop Denying the Problem
      • State share of tribal casino proceeds isn’t restricted for education
        • § Dedicate $600 million escrow & future proceeds: Recovery, Prevention
  • Fund Professional Training, Staffing, and Siting to Address the Need
  • Fund Aggressive Marketing Campaign: Promote Addiction Prevention & Recovery

SOCIAL Implications

 Gov. Cuomo Claims NYS is the Progressive Capital of the Nation

 FIVE CONSIDERATIONS:

 1. NYers afflicted with a disorder (Problem & Pathological gamblers) classified by the American Psychiatric Association exhibit measurably different brain function than the general population.

2. Predatory Gambling incites  those differences in brain function  

3. Symptoms of those afflicted worsen uncontrollably when re-exposed to Predatory Gambling   

4.Vendors of Predatory Gambling derive  50% of their revenue from  these afflicted persons and from those who trust(ed)  them and lost their resources too.

5. NYS actively promotes predatory gambling via Lottery including video lottery terminals and electronic table games; Gov. Cuomo now wants to increase that promotion with added full-blown casinos.

New Yorkers could almost zero out the hidden costs of gambling if the State invested to guide all problem gamblers (and their families and friends) to become again the people they  were before the first bet.  This would save money and save lives, not take away money and take away lives.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, Dave Colavito, and do not necessarily represent the opinion of any or all other members of CAGNY.  Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute in whole or in part as long as the above permalink is cited.

The Albany Gambling Diet

albanydiet  The Albany Gambling Diet

Thoughts on Healthier Eating

by

David Colavito

 

 

 

     When you consider how injurious the socioeconomic consequences of state-sponsored gambling are, compared to its benefits, you have to ask why Governor Cuomo is promoting the expansion of casino gambling, let alone as economic development.  Sure, “gambling is already here” and “New York needs jobs” – neither is in dispute.  And used as they are to promote the Governor’s plan, they’re certainly appealing.  That’s the sweet side of half-truths many of us prefer to our vegetables.  But if Albany isn’t serving a balanced meal, it’s in our interests to understand why.  I’m suggesting it’s a failure of imagination. 

    The thesis has been with me for some time and came into sharper focus recently while reading False Idyll, an essay by J.B. MacKinnon.  Dealing with an unrelated topic, MacKinnon’s words struck me as eerily apropos to the social injustice inherent to the casino economy – “…  the way you see the world determines much about the world you are willing to live in …“ 

    And because I choose to be generous in spirit, I choose to believe Governor Cuomo’s promotion of the casino economy is rooted more in how he sees the world rather than in the belief he can make it better.  It’s an unfortunate conclusion, considering what life would still be like if others before him had constrained their own imaginations when confronted with the same choice on important public policy matters: emancipation and suffrage to name just two.

    And though you might argue Mr. Cuomo’s recent policy commitments to gun control and gay marriage render my thesis flawed, I’d respond by saying perhaps you’re correct, but unlike for example integration in the south, I don’t think either would have occurred without strong political winds blowing at Mr. Cuomo’s back.  Regardless, what really matters is the facts of the casino economy, their implications for social injustice, and Mr. Cuomo’s refusal to acknowledge either in his pursuit to fill state coffers.  All of which is also to say, his fixation on the gambling economy is apt subject material for an as-yet conceived book to be titled after MacKinnon’s essay.

    So, what might we imagine if enough people in Albany saw the world more through the lens of what it could be rather than the way it is?   Given that the majority of casino gambling revenue dollars come from the minority of gamblers with serious gambling disorders, would lawmakers continue to endorse expanding that predatory business model to increase state revenues?  And given the well-established relationship that increased opportunity to gamble produces more people with serious gambling disorders, would they continue promoting state policies that cultivate making people sick to balance budgets?  Or, might they instead work to formulate policies that mitigate the interstate impacts of gambling so often used to conscript state residents in a race-to-the-bottom casino economy?  I think we know what they’d choose.  And there’s also recent precedence for pursing equally important objectives.  Consider, for example, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Regardless of where you come down on the 2nd amendment debate, Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t just believe in the need for federal gun policies that don’t undermine those of states; he’s a fierce advocate for them in Washington.

    Still shooting for the stars you say?  How about then just punting for the moon?  Albany could acknowledge a false premise it uses to pursue expanding the failed policy of state-sponsored gambling, though I suspect it isn’t spoken aloud there often.  It’s the keystone for the arch of my thesis – “we’re desperate; what else can we do if we don’t promote gambling?”

    The answer is, plenty. 

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Albany and Art of Deception

Albany and Art of Deception: From the Land Where No Means Yes

by David Colavito

"Peering over the edge" Flickr CC

“Peering over the edge” Flickr CC

Question:  When can state government promote responsible policies without leveling with voters?

Answer:  It can’t.

Question:  Has Governor Cuomo leveled with New Yorkers about his proposal to amend the state constitution to permit casino gaming?

Answer: No

Beyond special interests and hidden agendas, it’s simple.  Public policy initiatives designed to mislead the public aren’t responsible, and when they’re promoted, hang on to your wallet, because you can be sure that same public will eventually be picking up the tab.

In his 2012 state of the state address, Governor Cuomo rolled out his economic development plan that featured, among other things, his proposal to amend the New York State constitution to permit casino gaming.  He implied that those who question whether we should be in the gaming business are the equivalent of delusional because, as he put it, New York is already in the gaming business.  He referred to horse racing and video lottery terminal locations throughout the state as bedrock justification for his assertion.  He waxed, perhaps not eloquently, about the benefits casino gaming would bring to the Empire state.  And he cited, as common-sense, the need to rethink how our state manages gaming, if it’s to stem losses of potential revenue flowing like water out of New York into neighboring casino-permissive states in what might be thought of as a casino siphon.  The Governor came as close to saying as one could without actually saying it: New Yorkers are fools if they don’t get with his program to legalize casino gaming in the Empire State.

And so it was that Mr. Cuomo chose to bury the lead, raising the same tired red flags proponents of similar proposals hope go unnoticed.  It was deeply disappointing for people who took seriously the commitments to transparency and disclosure he’d laid claim to throughout much of his political career.

 Casino gaming is fiction, because casino gambling isn’t a game.  It’s the antithesis of a game, because games aren’t reliant upon participants incurring personal and economic hardships, an immutable aspect of betting against the house.  Medical and law enforcement professionals have long acknowledged that gambling disorders are real and incur substantial costs for society, just as substance abuse and tobacco related diseases do, though you’d never know it from Mr. Cuomo.  And although federal and state governments have for decades derived substantial revenue through taxation on tobacco and alcohol products, they aren’t in the business of promoting either.  But this isn’t about ideological purity; it’s about Mr. Cuomo playing it straight with New York voters, the same ones he needs to ratify changes to the state constitution in order to have his way.  So it’s also about what paths he’ll travel to get his way.

Casino gambling epitomizes wagering against the house, where the house’s odds of winning ensure everyone else must eventually lose, and as every casino owner knows, that’s a very different paradigm than Saturday night card games among friends.   All this isn’t to suggest everyone entering a casino becomes addicted to gambling, anymore than it’s to suggest everyone consuming alcohol becomes an alcoholic.  What it’s saying and not just suggesting is trained professionals tell us gambling disorders are real, and they come with hefty costs to our communities that can greatly exceed benefits.  And if this was intended to be a scholarly work it would also cite documentation of the disproportionately high level of casino revenues obtained from people with serious gambling disorders, sick people in need of help not exploitation from state government.  It’s a predatory business model, because in a variety of ways it arguably cultivates those disorders to facilitate preying upon those so afflicted.  Sound familiar?  It should, at least for those of sufficient age to recall the earlier days of lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers, but with one important twist: the government was party to some of those smoking related lawsuits.   

So appreciating the first red flag raised by the governor is to appreciate gaming for what it is, his euphemism of choice intended to inoculate voters against making an informed decision.

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