The Curse

Pachinko

Pachinko

 

A Talk at Patchogue-Medford Library Long Island NY  July 30, 2015  by Robert H. Steele

Mr. Steele is a Connecticut business executive and former U.S. Congressman, and was a nominee for Governor of Connecticut.

 

Comment by CAGNY editor: This talk starts about  a book set in Connecticut but moves through many important issues about predatory gambling before homing in on a location in New York State now threatened with the imposition of a 1000-device slot parlor.  It is a privilege to present it here.

Thank you for the invitation to come to Patchogue and for your interest in my book, The Curse: Big-Time Gambling’s Seduction of a Small New England Town.

The book is a fact-based novel set against the explosion of casino gambling that hit southeastern CT during the 1990.

The novel begins with the Pequot War in 1637, when Connecticut’s Puritan colonists joined with their Mohegan allies to defeat and almost destroy the Pequots, who were the largest and most warlike of the Connecticut tribes. The story then jumps 350 years, as these two tribes reemerge to build the world’s two biggest casinos – Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun – and a Connecticut family, led by a descendant of one of the Puritan colonists, becomes embroiled in a battle to stop a third casino that threatens the family’s town and ancestral home.

In the end, a small, quintessential New England town faces a Faustian dilemma in which it must choose between preserving its character and values or accepting an enormously seductive offer that would change the town forever.

The Curse, in sum, is a novel based on fact, and this evening I’d like to focus on the factual background of what has occurred in Connecticut and elsewhere – in other words, on the story behind the book.

First, I should probably give you a little more of my background since it entered into my writing the book.

I represented eastern Connecticut in Congress in the 1970s. Then, after running unsuccessfully for governor, I left politics and my family – my wife and four children and I – moved to Ledyard, Connecticut well before anyone dreamed of casinos coming to Connecticut. Those two experiences – knowing Connecticut’s politics as intimately as I did and then living in the midst of the subsequent casino explosion – gave me a front row seat for watching the political maneuverings that led to the casinos and then seeing their impact.

Indian casinos got their start in 1988, when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which was seen as a means of promoting tribal economic development and self-sufficiency by allowing federally recognized tribes to open casinos on their reservations.

It would be fair to say, however, that Congress had no idea of the Pandora’s Box it was opening when it passed the act.

As it turned out, the law not only opened the door to Indian-owned casinos, but it spurred the legalization of commercial casinos as many states rushed to open casinos as way to raise revenue without directly and overly raising taxes.

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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.

Caesars at Woodbury: Problem Gambling ? No Problem

thumbonscale

 

 

 

 

 

Summary: This is a critique of Attachment IX.A.2.a_A2  in  section  07 – IX.A. Assessment of Local Support and Mitigation Local Impact  of the  application by Caesars Entertainment to the New York State Gaming Facilities Location Board.    Being an epidemiologist and physician familiar with problem gambling as a public health problem,  I found  Attachment IX.A.2.a_A2  extremely biased in downplaying,  to near zero.  the possible health impacts  of a new Woodbury Casino.   The report asserts  as follows:

  • no socio-economic costs of pathological gambling and problem gambling warrant $ consideration, as none can be quantified so that all parties are close to agreement.
  • making casinos more convenient hardly  increases the prevalence of pathological gambling and problem gambling in the surrounding population in the long run.
  • the only population within a 50 mile radius of Woodbury that is  at theoretical  risk of having even a temporary surge in prevalence of pathological gambling and problem gambling  is that of Orange, Dutchess and Putnam Counties.
  • efforts by Caesars elsewhere to address “problem gambling” have been highly successful and will minimize “problem gambling” in southern New York State.

The  report greatly understates the possibility of harm to residents of the region due to a casino in Woodbury to residents of the region.  This essay addresses the first three  points in the above order.  The fourth  I have discussed in an e-mail to the NYS Gaming Commission last April.

 

In reading the Caesars Entertainment Inc application for a Woodbury casino I focused as a physician versed in public health  on the 40- page report   Study of Addiction and Public Health Implications of a Proposed Casino and Resort in Woodbury New York by Bo J. Bernhard Ph.D., Khalil Philander Ph.D., and Brett Abarbanel Ph.D.

The authors are all experienced consultants for gambling-related  enterprises. Two are senior members of the International Gaming Institute (IGI) at University of Nevada at Las Vegas. This is a highly polished presentation by experts who know the field but hide large tracts of it from view.   It  dismisses or never mentions four crucial facets of the ecology of pathological gambling and problem gambling. The report basically concludes that

  • socio-economic costs of pathological gambling and problem gambling don’t warrant consideration, as none can be quantified so that all parties are close to agreement.
  • making casinos more convenient does not much increase the prevalence of pathological gambling and problem gambling in the surrounding population in the medium  run of 2 to 4 years.
  • the only population within a 50 mile radius of Woodbury that is now under-served by racinos or casinos (and hence at theoretical  risk of having even a temporary surge in prevalence of pathological gambling and problem gambling) is that of Orange, Dutchess and Putnam Counties.
  • efforts by Caesars elsewhere to address “problem gambling” have been highly successful and can be relied on to minimize “problem gambling” in southern NY

The report nowhere mentions a statistic often cited by opponents of predatory gambling but never addressed head-on by casino advocates and never refuted: 40-50% of revenue at the average casino comes from pathological and problem gamblers, who comprise perhaps 12-15% of its customers, maybe 4% of all adults. [ http://cagnyinf.org/wp/april-9-2014-central-stat-of-casino-revenues] For the casino lobby to refute the statistic (if it is refutable) they would have to acknowledge that they can spot pathological and problem gamblers among their “visitors” while those persons are still active customers. This means before the person has loudly threatened suicide within an employee’s hearing or left town suddenly or thrown an ugly scene on the “gaming floor” or been arraigned or jumped.

Casinos will not acknowledge they have any  ability to spot problem or pathological gambling signs and symptoms that are not florid and end-stage. Why not? To move in even gently on such persons would risk offending them so they would go elsewhere or sending them to premature recovery before they have been “played to extinction.” [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C2BPZYLW_U ] .  To recognize the problem gamblers before they are end-stage yet not do anything for them  would reveal how insincere are the “preventive measures.” .

The casino cartel does not deny that its net revenues follow the Pareto principle: most come from a small proportion of gamblers. What casino promoters won’t say is what proportion on the average of that small proportion are pathological gamblers or problem gamblers. The promoters just do not want to know who among their customers is a problem gambler or pathological gambler until the gambler hits bottom or worse.   Promoters and detractors alike recognize that not everyone who loses a lot of money over time at casinos is a problem gambler. Anti-casino activists hold that most are; the American Gaming Association counters that most are affluent people having fun with their disposable income.

Assuming the central statistic is close to truth, casinos are not motivated to sincerely counter problem gambling and pathological gambling.  A successful effort to do so would lower their revenues by 40-50%.  Nor is government motivated; lower casino gross gaming revenues   would reduce  government’s share  by a like amount.

The report prepared for Caesars (in this no different from all the literature on problem gambling) also does not recognize that “unchanging prevalence” of problem and pathological gambling requires the formation of replacement problem gamblers and pathological gamblers to fill the shoes of those who have recovered, died, moved far away or are no longer free-living. What might appear a steady state is built on creating new problem gamblers. The more effective  the casino is at encouraging current problem gamblers and pathological gamblers into lasting recovery before they have fiscally and emotionally wiped out themselves and and ten people around them, the faster it must generate replacement problem and pathological gamblers to keep up its high profit margins.

I will now cover the first three bullet points above in more detail. The fourth bullet point I wrote about in the above-mentioned letter to the Gaming Commission.

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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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The Central Statistic of Casino Revenues

Central Statistic

The central statistic of  casino revenues gives the lie to assurances from casino promoters that they do not want, or need,   problem gamblers. In one line:

52 % of revenue at the average casino is the net losses of  “problem gamblers.”

The term “Problem gamblers”  as used above combines gamblers in two categories: what is now called “disordered gambling” (formerly called “pathological” or “addicted” or level 3); and those in what was formerly called “problem” or “subclinical pathological” or level 2).  There is no universally accepted name and unambiguous term for the combination, which was in the past termed by some “disordered gambling,”   by others “problem gambling.”  The combination  category is about  4 % of the adult population,   perhaps  10 to 15 %  of  casino users.  We recommend that “problem gambling” be kept as the portmanteau term for the combination.  We recommend that  persons whose lives are adversely affected by gambling but who do not meet  criteria for “disordered gambling” be called “at risk for disordered gambling.”

Nearly all the quantifiable socio-economic costs of legalized gambling,  more than $60 billion/year nationally ,2  move through this same 4 %  of adults who are “disordered”   or “at-risk-for-disordered” gamblers.   A program that reduced to zero the number of active disordered and at-risk gamblers and totally prevented formation of new ones would almost wipe away  the huge quantifiable socio-economic costs of legalized gambling, estimated at  $266 per year/capita adult  in the USA. 3

But,  that program would also reduce casino revenues by close on half.  Government’s share, based on taxing the total net losses of gamblers (“gross gaming revenue”), would drop by the same proportion.

The casino exchange exists only for profits.  Do you really think it would support in good faith a prevention and treatment program designed to cut its profit margin by half ?

Do you honestly think the state government would support in good faith a program whose complete success would mean a 50%  decrease in a budgeted revenue line?

Or, do you think the casino exchange and  government agencies would rather cooperate  to showcase  worthy  aims for “regulation” and “prevention  and treatment”  that might just fall short in practice ?

References

1.  Grinols, Earl L. and Omorow  J.D.  16  J. Law and Commerce 1996-97  p. 59 .  Details in appendix below.

2. The figure $60 billion comes from making low-side cost of living adjustments to convert 2003 dollars into those of 2012 and adjusting for population growth between 2003 and 2012.  The 2003 figures are on page 176-177 of Gambling in America by Earl L. Grinols (Cambridge University Press, 2004). This works out to about one-third the annual cost of illicit drug use.    https://www.drugfree.org/join-together/drugs/new-report-estimates-illicit-drug-use-costs-u-s-economy-more-than-193-billion-annually

3. http://cagnyinf.org/wp/gambling-economics-statistical-summary-by-prof-earl-grinols

Appendix:  What Proportion of Gamblers’ Net Losses to Casinos come from Problem Gamblers?  Brief  Review of  Five  Major Reports from the Last Twenty Years

Estimates of what proportion of casino gross gaming revenues derive from the approximately 4% of adults whose lives are adversely affected to varying degrees (“problem gamblers”) by gambling are not many.  The one most directly applicable to the average American casino is that of Grinols and Omorov.  Observations of  types of gambling other than physical casinos accord with Grinols and  Omorov in that  gamblers’ total net losses to a casino (also termed “gross gaming revenues”) have, like many other human activities, a Pareto distribution: the bulk of the output or the uptake   (e.g. consumption, volunteer work done) comes from a relative minority of the participants.

The casino exchange is wont to say that all such problem gambler statistics are wrong, that the biggest chunk of casino revenue is from wealthy “whales”  who  are not problem gamblers, just persons with a lot of discretionary spending money. That is all the rebuttal the exchange offers.

While “whales”  do exist, they do not frequent most casinos or racinos.  Casinos certainly have the information technology to respond with data to the above charges by opponents of predatory gambling, yet they do not.  To weigh in on this they would have to  acknowledge that they can identify all or most of the problem gamblers in their clientele.  This would open them to well-deserved criticism that they are not acting responsibly towards those persons.

Below, we review five documents related to the question of  % gambling revenues from problem gamblers, one each from United States, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Great Britain and Western Europe.

The next section, to the asterisks, is a continuous quote from page 59 of the article by E.L. Grinols and J.D. Omorov “Development or Dreamfield Delusions?: Assessing Casino Gambling’s Costs and Benefits.”  J. Law and Commerce vol. 16 (1996-1997) pp. 49-87.  The table has been re-formatted and footnotes removed.

“Table 1 provides a hypothetical profile of gambling revenues by type of gambler.

                           [table below]

Applying the terms “pathological” and “problem gambling” as

used by the psychology profession to the two groups losing the most to

casinos, we call those who have not gambled in a casino in the past year

“nonbettors,” and divide the remaining gamblers into “heavy” and

“light” bettor categories. Based on prevalence studies, we assume that

1.38 percent of the adults will be pathological gamblers  who lose an

average of $4,01328 and that problem gamblers lose one-seventh the

amount that pathological gamblers lose. This implies that 52 percent of

casino revenues come from the 4.11 percent of the population who are

pathological and problem gamblers.  In this respect, casino gambling resembles

alcohol of which 6.7 percent of the population consumes 50 percent

of all alcohol consumed. Allowing for the average adult to lose as

much as $200 annually to casinos in some areas would still mean that

more than 35 percent of casino revenues in those areas come from problem

and pathological gamblers.

 

The fact that the gambling industry is dependent on problem and

pathological gamblers for a large share of its revenues casts doubt on the

feasibility of treating pathological gamblers using industry tax revenues

to prophylactically prevent the externality costs of gambling addiction.

The treatment cost to the industry would be high, and these costs would

be in addition to existing taxes on gambling gross revenues that are already

high in many cases. Further, if treatment were successful in

preventing gambling by problem and pathological gamblers, it would significantly

reduce industry revenues. It is probably safe to conclude that

not everyone in the casino industry would willingly forego 35 percent or

more of their revenues.”  [emphasis added]

TABLE 1: Representative Distribution of Gambling Revenues by Type of Gambler

% of pop. designation annual loss annual loss cumul % of
per bettor $ per 100 adults $ casino gross
1.38 pathol. gambler 4013 5538 39
2.73 problem gambler 669 1826 52
5.89 heavy bettor 317 1866 65
50 light bettor 99 4970 100
40 non-bettor 0 0 0
100 total 14200 100

 

***********************************************************************

Figures in the table were computed by the authors  using information from  a 1992 report prepared by Deloitte  & Touche for the  City of  Chicago Gaming Commission:  ECONOMIC AND OTHER IMPACTS OF A PROPOSED GAMING. ENTERTAINMENT AND HOTEL FACILITY 137, 146, 147, 162

The Alberta study ( Williams et al)   two direct quotes

“ In 2008/2009 it is estimated that problem gamblers in Alberta account for 50% of all reported gambling expenditures, with that ratio being even higher for VLTs, slot machine and casino table games .”  Williams Robert J,  Belanger Yale, and Harris Jennifer N.  Gaming in Alberta  Final Report to the Alberta Gaming Research Institute 2011 p. 259

 

“A much more serious concern is that 75% of reported gambling expenditure comes from roughly 6% of the population. The most distinguishing feature of these individuals is the fact that 40.6% of them are problem gamblers. Overall, problem gamblers in 2008/2009 in Alberta appear to account for roughly 50% of all reported expenditure, a percentage that is even higher than previous Canadian estimates of between 23% – 36% (Williams & Wood, 2004; 2007). It is ethically problematic for governments and charity organizations to be drawing such a significant percentage of their revenue from a vulnerable segment of the population.”  [emphasis added]  Williams et al   op cit   Final Report to the Alberta Gaming Research Institute 2011 page 280

 

The Bwin study (Planzer, Gray and Howard Shaffer)

A study in Europe on internet gambling with casino type “games” authorized by the internet gaming company Bwin was reported on in an October 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal by Mark Maremont and Alexandra Berzon.   The investigators were Planzer,  Gray  and Howard Shaffer; their report is not yet published.  IThe WSJ article says that  3% of the 4222 customers tracked provided “half  the casino’s take.”  The  WSJ article did not say what proportion of the adult population the 3%  of the 4222 customers were.  Certainly it would be less than 3%, since only a minority of the adults do internet gambling.   The  article did not identify how many of the 3% were problem gamblers.  Safe guess it’s at least half.

Nova Scotia Video Lottery  (report by Focal Research)

A 470 page report on the Nova Scotia Lottery done by Focal Research [Schellink and Schrans principal authors] concluded that

“in 1997/98  5.7% of adults in Nova Scotia (approximately 38,750 adults) did most of the video lottery activity in the province and are contributing approximately $113,236,800, or approximately 96%, of the annual net revenue for video lottery gambling in the province.  Therefore, it can be assumed that VL   play behaviour differs significantly among those who are Casual VL Players and those who play on a regular, continuous basis and that these distinctions have significant implications, in terms of profiling VL gambling within the population at large.”

The Nova Scotia report (pages 3-42, 3-43) found that 55% of VL revenues were from “problem VL players,” who were about one-sixth  of the 5.75% of adults classed as “regular players” [defined as once a month or more].  Problem VL players thus comprised about .92% of adults.

The authors observe “It is obvious that success in helping Problem Players to reduce their expenditures will have a substantial impact on the total revenue Nova Scotia derives from VL play. If  Problem Players’ expenditure was similar to that noted for Frequent Players, there would be a reduction in total revenues from VL gambling of approximately 35% to 40%.

Using  the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey, James Orford (Univ Birmingham), Heather Wardle and Mark Griffiths derived a lower figure for % of gamblers’ net losses coming from problem gamblers: 23% at FOBTs [Fixed Odds Betting Terminals].  We note, however, that the prevalence of current problem gambling in this survey (0.9% by DSM –IV and 0.7% by PGSI criteria)  was much lower than the 2-4% figures from elsewhere.  This difference is more likely to be due to methods than to Britons’ being less vulnerable.  In this study, then,  23% of the FOBT revenues come from less than 1% of the adult population.  This ratio is even more skewed than what what Grinols and Omorov reported for “the average casino” (52% from 4%) .

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer,  Stephen Q. Shafer  MD, MPH, MA retired Clinical Professor of Neurology at Harlem Hospital Center, Columbia University , New York City.  He is Chairperson of Coalition Against Gambling in New York, a non-profit registered in Buffalo  http://cagnyinf.org    Permission is hereby given to quote in whole or in part as long as the permalink is cited and all citations to other work are correctly conveyed.

The graphic is by Dave Colavito.  He places no restrictions on use  but please attribute work to him.

Cornfields and Dreamfields

The New Bridge

The New Bridge

 

States of the States in Casinoland: Cornfields  and  Dreamfields

Summary:  An overview of casino spread in the United States                                             (1) Looks at locations and fiscal markers of “cornfield casinos” in Iowa, a thinly-populated state that  has  eighteen commercial casinos and two Indian ones.                                       (2) Discusses likely rationales for two sites proposed for new casinos in Iowa.                (3) A table using  figures from  the American Gaming Association web site  compares  year-2012 fiscal data for commercial casinos or racetrack electronic gaming devices  among all  twenty-three states that have either or both.  States can be ranked on  characteristics such as “win per capita” or taxes paid to government.  

Talking with someone from a very small city in NY (pop 900)   proposed as casino site,  I  remarked  naively that it must be unique in the country in being a truly rural community into which a commercial casino might come. I had thought all commercial casinos are in suburbs,  exurbs or fair-sized towns when  not in big cities.  Iowa then came to mind as predominantly rural but with commercial casinos.

A look at that state surprised me.  Iowa has fifteen commercial casinos classed  as “riverboats,”  three tracks with electronic gambling devices (EGDs)  and two Indian casinos.   It is hard to understand how the state could support so many; yet it is  considering two more.    This count led me  to compare Iowa to other states as to number, size and locations of casinos.  Two questions arose:  (1) were  impacts on small rural communities  assessed  in any way by  independent studies?  (2) how  did landlocked rural casinos fare financially compared to ones at riverside  or more urban settings?

Question 1 is a rapid dead end. No.  Question 2 opened a window on the United States as casinoland that this essay props wide.

To imagine from  the Iowa experience what a very small rural community in upstate NY might expect from a casino’s arrival,   I picked  four  similar locales in Iowa that now have casinos and one (Jefferson, in Green County) for which a casino is proposed.  Click here for a map.    Four locales were chosen by developers.  One, in Tama (Tama County),  is Indian-operated and was thus not free to roam.  Because it is a small “city” like the other four  and evidently  a test case for new competition while Iowa plans  more  casinos,  I included Tama.

Emmetsburg, pop 3900,  is home since 2006 to the Wild Rose Casino (550 slots,  17 table games, or TGs).   The casino is right in town on (literally)  Main Street,  US Rte 18,  which crosses the state.  Emmetsburg is the County Seat of Palo Alto County,  with a population  density of 16.5/sq mile it ranks 84th out of 99 in the state (Iowa pop. density is about 54/sq mi).  The town’s web site shows merited civic pride in history.    A report by a consulting group  in 2009 commented that there are no communities of much size nearby,  though Highway 18 eases travel.  The report stated that win/admission ratio (“win” means “gaming revenue”  of course)  and gaming revenue in first two full years were below most other markets in Iowa.  This is still true through FY 2013.

Northwood, pop 1989,  hosts  the Diamond Jo Worth casino  with 1000 slots and 32 TGs.  The casino is right off  I-35,  ( 9 mi west of the center of town)  about 25 mi south of  I-90 as it traverses southern Minnesota.   Click here for  Christmas Greetings from the casino in  2009.   Worth County ,  with population  density of 18.9 / sq mi,  ranks 76th in the state.   The  report by a consulting group in 2009 remarked that  the casino’s nearness to I-35 brought Mason City  into its reach at the time.  In its first two years the casino had an   “win”/admission ratio  and adjusted gross gambling revenues that outdid the state average.

Larchwood (pop.  866) is the city in Iowa most remote from  the capital, Des Moines.  Lyon County ranks 75th in state in pop density,  at 19.7.  In the northwest corner of Iowa,  Larchwood  saw in 2011 the rapid   opening of the Grand Falls casino,  which cost $120 million and offers   900 slots.  Tables games are now up to thirty-seven. This casino was obviously sited to capture Sioux Falls, South Dakota,  the largest city in that state.  A website blurb says it’s just eight minutes from Sioux Falls.  Actually eight miles from the extreme eastern side,  it is  more like 15 mi and 25 minutes from the center of the city.  The manager of the Grand Falls casino   told a reporter that she expected  an annual revenue of $70 million,  with 80%  to come from out-of-staters.

South Dakota  on the AGA listing ( see table below ) has thirty-five (35) “casinos”  but total “gaming” revenue is only $107M with revenue to state only $ 16.6M.  [Note well: these data may be wrong, but are copied correctly from the web site.]  I did not research the  state  in detail but would guess that many  of the “casinos” are like Borrowed Buck’s Roadhouse, the only “casino” in Sioux Falls that shows on a commercial website map  It has ten (10)  VLTs, pool tables and foosball.  South Dakota had decided,  upon legalizing casinos,  to put all its  real commercial casinos in one town,  Deadwood, almost 400 miles from Sioux Falls.   Since 1989 S. D. has had video lottery.  In FY 2013 an average of 9133 machines operated in the state in an average of 1426 establishments.  The nearest real casino to S.F. is an Indian one at Flandreau, 44 miles away.   A casino in nearer-by Larchwood was supposed to appeal to people in Sioux Falls who want live table games and lots of slots.

In Larchwood  gaming revenue has not reached the anticipated 70 M .   At 59 M for 2012 it was in the red $ 4.8 million.  Adjusted gross revenue in 2013 was $58 million, and the “win”/capita $46 in FY 2013, below the state average.  It may be that Sioux Falls gamblers find the convenient VLTs in town surpass the call of the casino.

These three active commercial casinos can be compared in the table to the fifteen “riverboat” casinos in Iowa, which includes them.  Data are for FY 2013   Some figures are rounded-off.

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The Crying of Prop. 1, 2013

The Crying of Prop. 1

Stephen Q. Shafer, M.D., M.A. , M.P.H.

Chairperson, Coalition Against Gambling in New York

 

8561188366_eda5d758cf_mbuckets

 

 

 

 

 

Summary Social costs due to  increased  problem gambling after  “up to seven” new casinos open in New York State will almost certainly exceed revenues from the State’s taxing new casinos.  These costs are real but externalized,  thus easily hidden or denied.  Just a 10% increase in the statewide prevalence of problem gambling would almost wipe out the gains in revenue to the State treasury and create thousands more gambling addicts than “permanent good jobs.”   A  25%  increase would nearly negate the entire sum ($1.2 billion)  targeted for recovery via in-state casinos.  In their quest for revenue without increases in conventional taxes,  state officials implied by silence  that  the number of  new problem gamblers anticipated either cannot be estimated or need not be. It is a nullity, off  the board.

No public policy can be evaluated properly without considering costs. Yet that’s what happened in the legislature and on the campaign trail.  This paper gives a public health physician’s   viewpoint of  the dishonesty in marketing “Proposal 1” right into the polling booth.

Introduction  The victorious campaign to legalize casinos in New York State  played up  hoped-for benefits and  played down  likely costs.  While conceding when pressed that problem gambling is a problem, promoters never  acknowledged  the flip side to making casinos more convenient to New Yorkers.  This step, to become law on January 1,  will (not might, will) create new addicted gamblers and new problem gamblers as well as service current ones.  Costs quite possibly in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year  will extend  to society from this sector.

Neither government nor business interests have made public any consideration whatsoever of   these costs.  The deliberate silence moved me, as a physician trained in public health, to compare these costs to the much-publicized  benefits.  I focused on a narrow question:  will the inflow of casino money to the State Treasury equal or outweigh the costs of the new casinos, externalized to New York’s people?  This is only one type of benefit, only one category of costs.

Analysis   What inflow is expected?    Proposal 1 promoters  have repeatedly said that gamblers from  NY  “spend”  $ 1.2 billion / yr  at  casinos in adjoining states and Canada.  [1]   The basis for this figure is not known to me.  In 2012 patrons from NY left behind at the two Indian casinos in Connecticut $259 million. [2]   Presumably the other billion was left behind in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Canada.  If this amount were lost in NYS  instead of elsewhere,  taxing it at the rates in Table 1  would yield to the State treasury the following amounts:.

 

                                                       Abbreviations used in the textNYS     New York StateQSEC   Quantifiable Socio-Economic Costs

 

Table 1.  Division of  $1.2 billion  “spent”  in out-of –NYS  casinos between State Treasury and  casino  ownership if all  $1.2 billion were kept in NYS.

Tax rate     State Treasury                Owners

$ millions               $ millions

20%                   240                            960

25%                   300                            900

30%                   360                            840

35%                   420                            780

40%                   480                            720

45%                   540                            660

At  30%  (reasonable guesstimate for NYS non-tribal casinos with 70% slots 30% other), the State Treasury would gain $360 million.  This is not the only possible benefit to the state, but is the most easily measured and the most talked-about, as in  “educating our children,” “property tax relief.”

Now to costs:   the principal (but far from the only) cost of “up to seven” casinos is the creation of new addicted and problem gamblers through a “distance  effect. ”     For a brief review of the literature, see pages 2-4 of a Dec 2012 paper which looked at the hypothetical scenario of five new casinos in New York City   [3]

The entry of  new gamblers during a specified time (incidence) into a category like “addicted”  is not well  measured by the prevalence (proportion active at a given time) [4].  This is because individuals leave the active prevalence pool over time through recovery, death, imprisonment, totally disabling illness or out-migration.  As hard as it is to measure the  prevalence of problem gambling,  it is far harder to measure incidence. Thus prevalence, fraught with methodological problems,  is the usual benchmark.

To assess costs of new addicted gamblers and problem gamblers we need  head counts and  per-head figures for cost.  The cost figures cited most often are from Earl L. Grinols, Distinguished Professor of Economics at Baylor. His book shows clearly how he came to them. [5]   I call these Quantifiable Socioeconomic Costs  (abbrev. QSEC), though Grinols does not use that term.  In  2012 dollars  QSEC  are $13787 / yr  per pathological (addicted ) gambler; those per problem Gambler are $3600 /yr .  Note well:  QSEC do not include suicide, divorce,  mental anguish, family disruption.  The costs of   these calamities are un-quantifiable; no monetary values can be assigned.  Thus they are even easier to disregard than QSEC.

Regarding the head count: the number of active addicted gamblers in NYS can be estimated by applying to a rounded-off figure of 15 million adults statistics for prevalence among adults of addicted (1.14%) and of problem gamblers (2.8%).  These are not recent but are well-established from a meta-analysis. [6]   In a national sample reported in 2004 [7] the prevalence of pathological and problem gamblers combined was 3.5% .

If at baseline there are 171,000 active addicted gamblers (15 million * 1.14%) and prevalence goes  up  by 5%, NYS  has  at least 9,000 new addicts.  Table 2 shows the number of new cases for a given increment in prevalence,  and the QSEC attached.  Table 3 works the same way for problem gamblers.  Table 4 combines the QSEC  for both types, arrayed by % increase.

Table 2.  Number of  new addicted  gamblers in NYS and Quantifiable Socioeconomic Costs of new addicted gamblers, by increase in prevalence  over baseline.  e.g. 9,000 * $13,787 /yr = $ 124 million/yr

Increase                       New addicted  gamblers   QSEC of increase in $ millions/yr

5%                                             9,000                         124

10%                                         17,000                         234

15%                                         26,000                         358

20%                                         34,000                         469

25%                                         43,000                         593

30%                                         51,000                         703

Table 3.  Number of new problem gamblers in NYS and Quantifiable Socioeconomic Costs of new problem gamblers, by increase in prevalence  over baseline. e.g. 21,000 * $3,600 /yr = $ 76 million/yr

Increase                       New  problem  gamblers   QSEC of increase in $ millions/yr

5%                                           21,000                         76

10%                                         42,000                         151

15%                                         63,000                         227

20%                                         84,000                         302

25%                                       105,000                         378

30%                                       126,000                         454

Table 4.  Quantifiable Socioeconomic Costs of new addicted  gamblers + new problem gamblers by increase in prevalence  over baseline.  e.g. for 5% increase in both,  total is $124 + $76 = $200 million/year.

Increase                       QSEC of increase, in $ millions/yr

5%                                           200

10%                                         385

15%                                         585

20%                                         771

25%                                         971

30%                                       1157

From Table 4 we see that if prevalence of addictive gambling and of problem gambling both  rise by only 10%, the QSEC attached to that rise are more than the $360 million the State would recover by taxing 1.2 billion at 30%.

We must consider, though, that persons who became gamblers because of the convenient casinos (some addicted,  some  problem gamblers, most in neither type) will also lose money there  that can be taxed.  How much might that add to State treasury  revenue?  Would that be enough to “cover” the QSEC springing from new casinos?  To answer that we need an estimate for  losses by type of gambler.

Grinols and Omorov in a 1996 paper [7]  estimated annual losses to casinos by persons living within 35 miles of  Las Vegas or Atlantic City  at $14,200/year (1992 dollars)  per one hundred  persons.    This includes people who do not go to a casino from one year to the next.  Converting to 2012 dollars gives   $ 23, 400 per 100 persons.  This figure was used in my Dec 2012 paper to reckon that losses to casinos by the 8 million residents of Greater New York came to $1.87 billion/year. I assumed that all losses were to casinos outside the reach of NYS taxation.   If  $23, 400 were applied to the entire NYS population it would mean that losses to casinos come to  $3.5 billion /year,  three times higher that of the commonly-cited  estimate of 1.2 billion /year.  Assuming that  $ 1.2 billion for the whole state is correct, a likely explanation is that since no resident of Greater NY  lives within 35 miles of a full-service casino,   the $23,400/100 persons/yr  figure was high; the longer distance lowers willingness to travel then spend.

$1.2 billion lost at out of state casinos by residents of NYS means that the average loss per year is $1.2 billion/15 million, or $8000/100 persons/year.  I took liberties with the famous table in Grinols and Omorow [8] , keeping the ratios of annual loss per gambler between types very much like those in the original but lowering the values so that the annual loss / 100 persons comes out to $8000, not $23,400.  The results in dollars of 1992 are in Table 5.

Table 5.  Hypothetical structure of casino revenues in 1992 dollars, by type of gambler   This table is formatted like the one in Grinols and Omorov [ref 8]  but the input values  in columns 1 and 3 have been altered, producing figures in column 4 very  different from those in the original.  Percentages in column 5 are similar to those in the original.

Prevalence in population

Type of gambler

Annual loss per gambler

Annual loss per 100 adults

Cumulative % of casino gross

1.14%

Addicted

1480

1687

35

2.8%

Problem

250

700

49

6.06%

Heavy bettor

118

715

64

50%

Light bettor

35

1750

100

40%

Non-bettor

0

0

100

100%

All types

 

4852

 

 

Converting  $4852 dollars of 1992 to $8006 dollars of 2012 gives the amount lost last year out of state /100 persons in population. For a population of 15 million the annual out of state loss is reckoned at $1.2 billion.  If new casinos caused no rise in prevalence of problem gambling AND stopped 100% of leakage,  this table could also represent the gamblers’ losses ( ~ = “gaming revenue”)  at casinos in New York after new casinos are at full steam.  Of this $1.2 billion the State Treasury gets  $360 million at 30% tax rate.

Leaving the baseline of  Table 5, consider the changes in  losses at casinos by gamblers after new casinos open in state,  assuming a 10% rise in prevalences of gambling addiction and problem gambling.  In Table 6,  note  new figures in column 1, same figures in column 3.  The annual loss to casinos rises, as does the revenue to the state treasury.

Table 6.  Hypothetical structure of casino revenues in 1992 dollars, by type of gambler, reflecting changes in relative frequencies of type in population due to new casinos    Assumption: compared to baseline there is a 10 % increase in prevalence of all types of gambler and a decrease in proportion of non-bettors from 40% at baseline to 34%.

Prevalence in population

Type of gambler

Annual loss per gambler

Annual loss per 100 adults

Cumulative % of casino gross

1.25%

Addicted

1480

1850

35

3.08%

Problem

250

770

49

6.7%

Heavy bettor

118

791

64

55%

Light bettor

35

1925

100

34%

Non-bettor

0

0

100

100%

All types

 

5336

 

 

 

Converting $5336 to dollars of 2012 gives $8804 / 100 adults/yr .  This, multiplied by 15 million adults,    yields $1.32 billion as the amount that would be lost by gamblers from New York at casinos in  New York after new casinos are built.  In this scenario the non-tribal New York casinos realize from the losses of  new gamblers an extra $120 million  ( = $1.32B – $1.2B) of which the State gets by taxation 30 % , or $ 36 million.

If  the prevalences of addicted gambling and problem gambling rise by 25% with new casinos, not just by 10%, the annual loss to casinos rises in proportion.  See Table 7.

Table 7.  Hypothetical structure of casino revenues in 1992 dollars, by type of gambler, reflecting changes in relative frequencies of type in population due to new casinos   Assumption: compared to baseline there is a 25% increase in prevalence of  all types of gambler  and a decrease in proportion of non-bettors from 40% at baseline to 29%.

Prevalence in population

Type of gambler

Annual loss per gambler

Annual loss per 100 adults

Cumulative % of casino gross

1.43%

Addicted

1480

2116

36

3.5%

Problem

250

875

51

7.8%

Heavy bettor

118

920

64

62.5%

Light bettor

35

2188

100

25%

Non-bettor

0

0

100

100%

All types

 

6099

 

Converting $6099 to dollars of 2012 gives $10063 / 100 adults/yr. This figure, multiplied by  15 million adults,  yields $1.51 billion as the amount that would be lost at New York casinos by New Yorkers.  Casinos take  in $310 million above baseline (=$1.51B – $1.2B) from the new gamblers, of  which  the State Treasury collects 30%  or $93 million above the baseline intake of $360 million.

Discussion The QSEC to New York society associated with generating 17,000 new addicted gamblers and 42,000 new problem gamblers (10% increase in prevalence of both) are  $385 million, very nearly as much as the revenue to the state ($396 M) from taxing the losses by established and new gamblers at its new casinos.    If the State attended to costs, not just to revenues,  it would see this barely breaks even. The QSEC to New York society associated with generating 43,000 new addicted gamblers and 105,000 new problem gamblers (25% increase in prevalence of both)  are  $971 million, more than twice as much  as much as the revenue to the state ($450 million) from taxing the losses by established and new gamblers at its new casinos. If the State paid attention to costs,  it would see a fiasco.  This $971 million quantifiable cost almost equals the total of  $1.2 billion supposedly at stake.

The advertisements run by NY JOBS NOW implied that every dollar of the 1.2 billion that is lost to a casino in New York rather than across a border will benefit New York.    One ostensible benefit,  outweighed by QSEC,  is tax revenue to be disbursed  back to the populace as “aid to education” or  “property tax relief.”  Another,  not touted so loudly,  might be  to keep the rest of the money within the state where  it will go to overhead and profits of businesses with structures in NYS..  Much of that overhead will, we presume, pass to persons now living in the state as wages and as property tax paid to municipalities (if no abatements).  This would be a benefit to the state.  In fairness and transparency, however,  it  must still be weighed against QSEC, which in the 25% increase scenario may equal or exceed it.   That leaves profit.  Is this a benefit to NYS?    The casino buildings  will be in our state.  Where will the profit-takers be?

It  is too early to know if any of the owners will be NY companies.  Front-running candidates as of  Nov 18  include  Foxwoods, a Connecticut company;  Claremont Partners, “ a partnership of  mostly offshore investors based in the  Isle of Man;”  EPR Properties, based in Kansas City;  Empire Resorts, based in Kuala Lumpur; Concord Associates, New York; Muss Development, New York City; and Jeff  Gural, who lives in New York City.  RH Land Development has its New York State location in Rochester.  Traditions at the Glen Resort has one location, in Johnson City.    Vista Hospitality has its American offices in Binghamton. Caesar’s Entertainment, Las Vegas, is reported to be interested after having been dismissed in Massachusetts.  Rumor says the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe of Wisconsin is interested. A list like this will change week-to-week.

Conclusion It is sad indeed that voters were sold the amendment by being shown none of the debits, only the income.  In place of a cost-benefit analysis,  the electorate got the travesty of a benefit-only analysis.  New York State’s leaders and legislative followers sought  revenue at any cost, as long as the latter was out of sight.

Most of the debit side of the ledger springs from the formation of new gambling addicts and problem gamblers, creating a public health problem never recognized as such.  In a progressive state such as New York has been and should be, this would have been addressed by Health in All Policy.  HiAP is a fairly new concept, not the law of the land but gaining ground in North America (e.g. California and Ontario).  It came out of a 1998 resolution by the World Health Organization .  Basically, it requires that large – scale governmental policy have a health impact assessment before adoption.  New York State deliberately bypassed the responsibility to offer voters a traditional cost-benefit analysis of policy.  Just as deliberately the state passed up the challenge of  applying innovative HiAP.

It is impossible to predict exactly how many new problem gamblers will develop in the “up to seven casinos” future.  It is also impossible  that there will not be more of  them as our state gets more convenient casinos. Legislators hinted at the threat by putting some funding for treatment and prevention into the Upstate Gaming and Economic Development Act passed last June.  Then they withdrew attention.  No one in Albany made any estimate of the scope of the problem, thus zeroing it away.  If it has no size, it’s nothing.

200px-A-dressing_the_White_Queen

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”     Lewis Carroll,   Through the Looking Glass

 

 

Afterword on prevalence Even if the prevalences of  addiction  and  problem gambling could be shown by a crystal ball to be absolutely stable over (say) four years following the introduction  of casinos, that first phase has created  new disordered gamblers.   Every year, some gambling addicts and problem gamblers leave the “active prevalence” pool  through  recovery, death,  imprisonment, disabling illness or out-migration. Suppose this rate is truly 10% a year;  after  four years,  prevalence of active addiction  that began at (say)  1.14% should be down to 0.75%.  If  it is not, “replacement addicts” have entered the pool,   Some are in-migrants, some relapses, many newly-minted.

 

Studies that purport to find no statistically significant increase in the prevalence of (say) problem gambling over time after exposure rises may also be underpowered.  A study to detect with reasonable statistical power a near-doubling of  prevalence from 1.14% to a prevalence of 2.17% would require 2000 interviews at each point.  This is impossibly expensive for a public agency to do.  A study to detect a 25% increase from 0.0114 to 0.0142 would require 20,000 interviews at each point.  The increase seems less than minuscule, yet in a population of 15 million it represents 43,000 new addicts.  No wonder the gambling promoters have no fear of someone’s proving an increase in the prevalence of addiction and thus no fear of being held responsible for any ominous trends.

References

  1. From the Home Page of  NY Jobs Now http://www.nyjobsnow.com/index.php#benefits

NEW JOBS. MONEY FOR SCHOOLS. LOWER PROPERTY TAXES.

New Yorkers currently spend more than $1.2 billion a year at destination casinos in neighboring states. Allowing casinos in New York will keep a lot of that money right here in New York where it belongs — helping to generate economic activity, fund our schools, and provide tax relief.

On the ballot this November, Proposal 1 will ask voters to approve the casino plan passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature this spring.

2. Center for  Policy Analysis, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth: New England Casino    Gaming Update 2013.  Economic Development series no. 74

3. Shafer, Stephen Q. New Commercial Casinos Will Mean Thousands of New Gambling Addicts  Dec. 2012  http://cagnyinf.org/wp/new-casinos-equal-1000s-of-gambling-addicts/

4. Shafer, Stephen Q.  Measure Something: Prevalence of Pathological and of Problem Gamblers. http://cagnyinf.org/wp/9_nov_2013_measure_prevalence/

5. Earl L. Grinols. Gambling in America Cambridge University Press 2004 pp. 171-174.

6. Shaffer HJ, Hall MN, Vander Bilt J. Estimated Disordered Gambling Behavior in the United States and Canada Report to National Gambling Impact Study Final Report 1999  https://divisiononaddictions.org/html/publications/meta.pdf

7.  Welte JW et al. The Relationship of Ecological and Geographic Factors to Gambling Behavior.  J. Gambling Studies ( 2004) 20: 405-442

8. Grinols EL and  Omorov  JD.  Development or Dreamfield Delusions? Assessing Casino Gambling’s Costs and Benefits.  J. Law and Commerce 1996-97, vol 16 p 59

The drawing is captured from Wikipedia.  Original by John Tenniel for  Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, by Lewis Carroll

photograph of buckets is by Kevin Krebs from clickr.com photos 8561188366_eda5d758cf_

The author retired in 2010 as Clinical Professor of Neurology at Harlem Hospital Center, Columbia University. He has an M.P.H. in Epidemiology and an M.A. in Political Science gained while (1976-78) a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar in the Department of Medicine,  Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons.  He is Chairperson of Coalition Against Gambling in New York,  a non-profit  registered in Buffalo.

Permission is hereby given to reproduce this post in whole or part as long as the permalink above is cited.

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.

 

 

 

New York State is Addicted

Despair

New York State is addicted to revenues from gambling.  This is not just a figure of speech. Below are hallmarks obvious in the state’s behavior over the 47 years since its Constitution was amended to allow a lottery with periodic drawings and paper tickets.  In November another amendment, to permit “up to seven” casinos, will be on the ballot statewide. Intervention is needed.

  • craving
  • upping the dose
  • seeking short-term rewards e.g. “aid to education” without an uptick in personal or business tax rates.
  • discounting adverse effects  Problem gambling in New York drains from society  more than 3.5 billion dollars a year in quantifiable socio-economic costs like judicial administration, lowered productivity, and abused dollars.  This amount excludes suicide, proceeds of crime and psychosocial harm to the dozen or so individuals who are betrayed by every problem gambler in “the chase.”  No state official ever acknowledges the size of this problem.  The econometrics are in Gambling in America (Cambridge University Press, 2004) by Earl L. Grinols, Distinguished Professor of Economics at Baylor.
  • denying long term liabilities (e.g. spectre of fiscal flop with saturation, need for bailout à la NJ or DE, future inroads by internet gambling)
  • scoffing at the diagnosis “There’s nothing wrong with me!”
  • dismissing prospects of recovery  
  • cheating (e.g. allowing as if they are video lottery terminals (VLTs) hybrid electronic table games with outcomes not under the control of Lottery’s central processing unit.  See New York Daily News May 5 and 12, 2013. Another more recent example: rewriting the text of the amendment   to be on November ballot to make it an advertisement for a yes vote and boosting the proposal from the sixth slot where it belongs by date of passage into the “number one” slot.
  • deceiving e.g. pretending  increased regional cash throughput is “economic development”  Another example: saying that government regulation of commercial casinos will prevent the creation and exploitation of problem gamblers. In fact, government wants tough regulation to protect itself from being cheated, not to end problem gambling.   Half of casino revenues flow from the 4% of adults who are problem gamblers.  The casino owners don’t want to stop mining this mother lode, nor would tax-collectors like a 50% drop in revenues to the state. Even the most credulous person will realize that “regulation” in this situation is  programmed to fall far short of stated intentions.
  • scheming and manipulating  item, conceding money due to the state, localities and private citizens to deflect Indian opposition to potential competitors; item, promising a piece of commercial casino revenues not to “education” nor to “local property tax relief” but to horse-breeding and tracks if legalized casinos “cannibalize” racino gambling
  • conniving “If a law is in your way, get rid of it.”
  • dealing in a desperate and dishonorable way to keep “the connection.”  The Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013 authorized additional video gaming establishments under Lottery if the casino amendment does not pass.  A spokesperson for the Governor (see Wall Street Journal June 15) offered ball-park figures: three to four “upstate” facilities with up to 5000 machines each.  This would more than double the state’s current battery.  The same bill enacted, regardless of the amendment’s outcome, additional VLT facilities “downstate.” Curious, for a bill denoted “Upstate.”

New York State is not addicted in the sense that its whole government is preoccupied each day with raising revenue from gambling. Nor is a large proportion of total revenue to the state from that source.  It’s less than 3%. That the state is a high-functioning addict still able to multi-task does not excuse its being addicted nor give assurance that its dependence will not get worse.

New York is not alone.  Many states and Canadian provinces are addicted too.  All show typical denial. Nowhere but in NY, however, do voters statewide have the chance in 2013 to call the addiction just that and say “Let’s start to ‘Recover New York.’”

Most people, even if they have never been in one, know what an intervention is, how it can launch recovery before catastrophe has struck.   New York needs an intervention now. Rejecting the proposed amendment at the General Election is a good start. Sad to say that’s all it can be.  The intervenors have no leverage here. The addict has a big stash locked in the garage and no intention of handing it over or entering treatment.

I personally regret NYS has the “casino referendum” because opponents may be outspent >1000 to 1 as is happening in Massachusetts and the public bamboozled.  Now that the Governor and his legislature have brought us the referendum, though, we can and must use it to confront our government, challenge it to lead recovery from gambling addiction the way it leads on recovery from natural disaster,

Photo image “Despair” from flickr creative commons 3503412461_815c19b748

Opinions in this piece are those of the writer, Stephen Shafer,  and do not necessarily reflect the views of any or all other members of CAGNY.  Permission to reproduce in whole or part is hereby granted as long as the permalink above is cited.

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.