Negative Expected Value

 

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Negative Expected Value:   The Ultimate Triumph of Loss.

Summary: Though  only one form of predatory gambling,  lottery  illustrates how and why predatory gambling drains not only the gambler  but also everyone around each gambler from whom he or she can winkle or steal a dollar to pursue “the chase.”   Using a simple model of lottery, this essay distinguishes “wins” from net gain, showing that unless a compulsive  gambler quits, “extinction” is inevitable.  Every rational person knows this. Sad to say,  however, most people deny  how badly  trusting persons around the gambler will be hurt as the gambler fends off   the inevitable.  “The gambler’s ruin” is not confined to  him or her.   This is the central evil of predatory gambling.

Adam  Smith wrote about  lottery  “That the chance of gain is naturally overvalued we may learn from the universal success of lotteries.  The world neither ever saw, nor ever will see, a perfectly fair lottery; or one in which the whole gain compensated the whole loss; because the undertaker could make nothing by it . . .  There is not, however, a more certain proposition in mathematics than that the more tickets you adventure upon, the more likely you are to be a loser.  Adventure upon all the tickets in the lottery, and you lose for certain; and the greater the number of your tickets the nearer you approach to that certainty.”   Wealth of Nations book I Chapter 10 p 153

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Five Arguments against Legalizing Casinos in NY

 

The Great Seal of the Sate of New York

The Great Seal of the State of New York

Five current arguments about legalizing non-tribal casinos in New York State in the light of the keystone estimate for casino revenues shown in bold below. 

52% of revenues at the average casino are from problem or pathological gamblers. (Grinols and Omorow 16  J. Law and Commerce 1996-97 p. 59)  Together, these types of gamblers are 4% of adults,  about 7%  of casino  clients.

 PRO: Would send new revenue to Albany without raising tax rates.

CON: Half that revenue would have been diverted, to their lasting harm,   from the families and associates of addicted and problem gamblers, or would be proceeds of outright crime. 

CON: If quantifiable social costs are considered,  raising $1  via tax on casinos costs the private  sector twice what it costs to gain that $1 by a step-up  in a conventional tax rate.  (*Grinols pp. 180-181)

 PRO: All or nearly all that revenue would be dedicated to “education.”

CON: Simply allows $$ that would have gone to education to be spent elsewhere in state budget. 

CON: Creates a pretext for annual increases. Who’s against “more money for education?”

 PRO: Would be regulated to cut out underworld and instructed to “prevent problem gambling.”

CON: See keystone estimate.  Casinos get 50 % of revenues from < 7 % of clients.  Steering those clients into lasting recovery and halting their replacement would ↓↓ high profit margins.  What for-profit business wants to cooperate in drying up the 7% of customers that leave half its take ?   No business.

CON: Promoting “responsible gaming” is a sham.   Seriously-affected gamblers seldom benefit by government-sponsored treatment programs until terrible damage has come to them and those close to them.  

 PRO: “Creates jobs.”

CON: May hurt other businesses by taking workers from them (“cannibalization” ).

CON: Importing workers can burden host community (housing stock, schools).

 PRO: “Economic development”

CON:  Increased local cash throughput  (does not equal)  economic development.

CON:  Local property taxes promised by casinos economic development.

Then what is economic development ?  “The creation of greater value by society from its available resources”  (*Grinols p. 57) 

*footnotes refer to Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits by Earl L. Grinols (Cambridge University  Press, 2004). Earl Grinols is Distinguished Professor of Economics at Baylor University.

 The opinions in this piece are those of the author, Stephen Q. Shafer MD MPH and are not  necessarily shared by any or all members of CAGNY.  Permission is hereby granted to quote from this piece at any length if the source is cited using the permalink.

 

The Central Statistic of Casino Profits

The_Goose_That_Laid_the_Golden_Eggs_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19994.jpg  from Wiki

The_Goose_That_Laid_the_Golden_Eggs_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19994.jpg from Wiki

When Governor Cuomo in 2012  proposed  new commercial casinos he said they would need regulation.  Casino promoters can’t dismiss the concept,  which  has several aims.  One specific to casinos is to mitigate gambling addiction and problem gambling.*  Promoters don’t deny these  can be outcomes of   “gaming.”  Another goal of regulation, applied also to the banking or securities industries, is to protect investors and tax-collecting entities against in-house predatory practices, organized crime and tax dodges.

Casino owners want regulation of how they handle consumers and accounting about as much as do big banks or brokerages: the least possible.   In any business, regulation hurts profits by constraining practices (say, payday loans) and limiting externalities.  For example, a company no longer free to discharge waste into a waterway faces new costs; raising prices may lose it business if competitors don’t raise theirs too.   Casinos are uniquely  intent on profit for its own sake. For them, that’s the be-all and the end-all.   Typical  industries, even those as controversial as “Big Pharma” or “Big Oil” make a product of real use to someone.  The casino business has only one tangible product,  in which it cannot take pride:  addicted and problem gamblers.  That product fuels it.

The central  statistic  of  casinos:  a  large proportion  (Grinols and Omorow** estimated 35-50%)  of  the  gross returns after winnings are paid out comes from compulsive and  problem gamblers — about 4% of the adult population — who comprise maybe 12.5%  of casino users.  Most of that 35-50% is from addicted gamblers.   From this statistic comes

The central dilemma :  if  casino owners  acted effectively to steer  into lasting recovery all pathological and problem gamblers in their sphere and  to prevent the creation of new ones,  profits would  drop by at least 35%.  How would that play on the bottom line?  Not well at all.

Resolution: publicly express concern on problem gambling but make it go on  under a façade of “prevention”  methods structured to fail.   Accede to customized and toothless “regulation” that won’t interfere with the real business.

Recall the goose that laid the golden eggs.  Casinos do not lay the golden eggs their promoters claim; they are gilded base metal.  Whether the bird’s owner knows this or not,  whether  he stores or markets the eggs,  the owner (assuming  he has more common sense than the yokel in the story, who killed it) will cosset the bird.  He won’t let  anyone  change her diet or re-house her.  To an owner eager for  eggs that look golden, regulation threatens the health of  the goose,  jeopardizing  her output.

Legislators weighing the proposed amendment in New York State to legalize new casinos must ask three questions. “Would those casinos knock themselves out  to profit 35%-50% less than many others do?” That’s obvious: No

“Do I really believe NYS can and will properly regulate casinos if they don’t want it?”    Someone very credulous might say so.  No one else will.

“Is it fair to NYS residents to commend to them, by an “Aye” on second passage,  a sham I don’t believe in.”  The response to that should be a third NO.

*These two categories of  “disordered gambling behavior”  are distinct.  About 1% of North American adults are past-year pathological (addicted)  gamblers, another 3% or so past-year problem gamblers. Sometimes for brevity (not clarity) the two categories are lumped into “Problem Gambling.”

** Grinols, Earl L. and J.D. Omorow (1997) “Development or Dreamfield Delusions? Assessing Casino Gambling’s Costs and Benefits.”   Journal of Law and Commerce 16, 1, 49-87.

The opinions are those of the writer, Stephen Q. Shafer and do not necessarily reflect those of all members of Coalition Against Gambling in New York.  Permission is granted to quote from this post at any length or to reproduce the entire post as long as the source is cited using the permalink above.

 

 

 

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Under New Management: Business as Usual

Melencolia (A. Durer 1514) file from Wikipedia

Melencolia (A. Durer 1514) file from Wikipedia

A press release dated 20 Feb 2013 announces the formation of  “The Responsible Play Partnership”  to bring together the newly formed NYS Gaming Commission, OASAS (Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services) and NYS Council on Problem Gambling.   The full text may be seen at  http://www.gaming.ny.gov/pdf/press_022013.pdf    I have excerpted one  line and five paragraphs from it, making no changes within the excerpts, which  are in italics.  I have added commentary at the top,  among the paragraphs and at the bottom.

None of the proposed actions is itself a bad idea.  The total package, however,  is wholly inadequate to deal with compulsive and problem gambling in the state now.   Moreover, it takes no account of  new gamblers moving into these two categories  if, as the Governor wants,  seven new casinos are eventually licensed.  Casinos are hardly mentioned.

 … The Responsible Play Partnership will include the following components:

 Swift enforcement of age restriction laws: New York law prohibits gambling under the age of 18 at all OTBs, horse racing facilities and casinos. The current legal purchase age for Lottery tickets is 18 and 21 in establishments that sell alcoholic beverages. Similar to state enforcement efforts that prevent alcoholic beverage sales to underage buyers, the Responsible Play Partnership will help to enforce the age restriction laws for gambling:

  • The Council on Problem Gambling is coordinating with various alcohol and substance abuse councils across the State to carry out underage compliance checks at various locales, with Gaming Commission staff accompanying them. Underage volunteers will attempt to place bets, purchase tickets and/or engage in gambling activities at lottery retailers, Quick Draw locales, off-track betting and E-Z Bet locations, race tracks and video lottery terminal facilities across the state.
  • When violations occur and where possible, Gaming Commission personnel on-hand will issue an immediate notice to the venue outlining the violation and any applicable disciplinary action.
  • Violations could result in fines, suspensions or revocation of an entity’s license to participate or provide such services in New York.

 Comments: 

  • Stiff  barriers  to underage gambling are good.  There is no mention, however,  of  how intensive or extensive  the micro-sting operations will be.  Penalties do not seem stiff —  violations “could”   result in  fines  etc.  
  • I expect the  RPP has no authority over  tribal casinos; thus, no mention here of  including   them.   If  non-tribal casinos are introduced, would the RPP be sending its underage undercover agents into those?
  • Is the RPP going to say anything now about the proposal mentioned in New York Times (21 Feb 2013 pp A19 and A22)  to allow  persons under 21 to play Quick Draw in bars?   If  truly responsible, the RPP should not merely accede to checking on compliance with changes in law that deliberately  increase exposure to gambling.  It should contest such changes.

 Proper resources at facilities to identify and address problem gambling: The Gaming Commission will mandate that VLT locations, off-track betting facilities and race tracks in the State  submit a report indicating how they currently handle individuals showing signs of  being problem gamblers. The Commission will evaluate these measures with OASAS, the Council on Problem Gambling and future partners to issue improved consistent policies to all facility operators.

 Comment:  This empty rule will probably get some token compliance hardly worth the paper it’s written on.   It is impossible  that  any of the listed types of facility will look in good faith for  “signs of being problem gamblers.”  For one thing, they don’t have the staff  in settings (e.g. racinos)  which  improve profit margin by mechanization and depersonalization.  Moreover, they have a fiscal reason to be blind to problems unless they anticipate  frequent  inspection and a harsh penalty for failure.   This brings us  to the central statistic  of predatory gambling:  a large proportion of  the  gross returns after winnings are paid out  comes from the small proportion of the gamblers who are compulsive or problem gamblers.  Grinols and Omorow* estimated 35-50% at the average casino, from about 4% of the adult population.   No  sensible gambling  locale will risk offending its best customers and driving them to a competitor by confronting them with the always-denied suggestion that there might be a problem.    No floor manager wants to be fired for remonstrating, even gently,  with  a  longtime customer  who is sure to deny what is felt as an accusation.

Casinos know a great deal about customers, but can always claim that if someone has left $40,000 on their tables in the last year they have no responsibility to know where that money came from.  Is it chump change to a wealthy heir or is it a spouse’s I.R.A.?   Casinos are off-limits to state regulators now in NYS (as NY casinos are all tribal)  but if non-tribal ones are legalized as the Governor wants,  they would theoretically be very important  in identifying problem gamblers.   A major part of the Governor’s idea for new commercial casinos was to regulate (as well as tax) them in a way that tribal casinos are not regulated or taxed.  It is odd  that the RPP omits casinos in their announcement.

 For that matter, lottery ticket sellers and Quick Draw locales (admittedly thousands of times more numerous than the other settings and harder to monitor) are also exempted from  watching for “signs.”  A small-town convenience store is probably better able to know which neighbor-customer  has a gambling problem than a busy racino, but certainly disinclined to report a worry.  The ticket-seller can always hope that tonight’s pick will at last be the lucky one.

The only persons really motivated to confront and point towards recovery an addicted or problem gambler are those around the gambler who are being exploited and hurt by him or her AND KNOW IT.   All too often these people have been deceived outright or bamboozled by co-dependency and fear into doing nothing effective.  One measure that could help those who are actually deceived by a casino-gambler (as opposed to paralyzed)  is that a monthly statement of wins and losses be mailed to each customer’s home address.  Such laws have been proposed in states with non-tribal casinos, but  never pass.  If  New York gets non-tribal casinos our state should have such a law.

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“Lottery for Education” Steals a Good Name

6007594833_b6983433f0rockhorse photo FlickrCC 6007594833_b6893433f0rockhorse.jpg 

The New York State Lottery generates revenue to government outside the tax stream that goes directly “to education.”  This special fund, however, is not as most people thought in 1966 it would be, to enhance “education” above subsistence level.  It’s more like a reserve called  every year.  Used thus, it frees for  other expense sectors (e.g. pensions, welfare) money from taxes put into the General Fund that would have gone to “education.”  This can be called “total budget fungibility.”   

Compare government-sponsored lottery to the unpopular revenue-booster  of  increase in conventional taxes:  it looks to the average tax-payer like finding money in the street.  It is not.  It is socially unjust in taking money disproportionately from the less affluent.   It is two or three-fold  more expensive when hidden quantifiable socioeconomic costs are factored in.  Big-time predatory gambling like NYSL also leaves in its path untold harm that cannot be quantified, including family breakup and suicide.   In 2013 we face the spectre that newly-legalized casinos will be hailed, like Lottery, as benefactors to “education” and therefore to NY residents.   They would  be wolves in sheep’s clothing.   Continue reading