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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“Job Creation” by Casinos not a Net Boon

“ JOB  CREATION ”  BY CASINOS  MAY NOT BE A  BOON  FOR THE COMMUNITY

"School Buses in the Fall"   found on  flickr  commons

Building a new casino complex opens job lines in the locality.  This is often trumpeted  as “job creation.”  Job creation is widely desired at a national level.  On a local or regional level, however, it may be more job substitution.  Persons newly hired at the casino complex will often have quit another job nearby for what they hope will be better conditions.  In a rural area a new casino complex will abruptly have hundreds more openings than there are ready able and willing workers in the community.  It will have to import staff, many of whom have left their jobs elsewhere.   The check list below refers to a medium-sized non-tribal casino complex in a mostly rural area.  Opening and filling job titles novel to  a community is not necessarily  True job creation, widely desired at a national level,   is not necessarily a net benefit to the community or county .

YES MAYBE N0
Construction jobs building  casino complex   ●
New construction or renovation outside casino complex    ●
Local skilled unionized work force enough for construction
Non-resident skilled workers needed for construction  ●
Most new job lines can be filled by local unemployed
Most new lines can be filled by local people who switch jobs
Some local workers will switch job to casino complex  ●
All casino job lines can be filled by local residents
Interest in hiring disabled persons  ●
sales local gas stations  ●
sales local stores and restaurants  ●
Net in total property tax roll due to devalued businesses    ●
Casino employees in rental housing will pay school taxes  ●
Casino will pay  school taxes
School  budget  overall  definitely bettered by casino  ●
Existing stock of rental housing for casino employees good    ●
 County-wide unemployment definitely decreasedOpinions in this piece are those of the writer, Stephen Q. Shafer MD, MA,MPH and are not necessarily shared by any or all members of CAGNY.  Photo of schoolbuses in the fall from flickr commons 5111493374_ca620e7837schoolbuses  ●

   ●

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.