Caesars at Woodbury: Problem Gambling ? No Problem

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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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Letter to Legislators about Proposed Amendment

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The letter below was written to be distributed to all NYS legislators on the morning before the Governor’s State of the State Message.  The three casinos “upstate”  he projected in the SOSM   we can see would create fewer gambling addicts than (say) five in the Metropolitan area.  This “phase I ” scenario, however, does not rule out a second phase with  four casinos south of “upstate.”   to compete with casinos in neighboring states.  Nothing is off the table.  The Governor’s discussion of the amendment  was a trial balloon..  The amendment is a terrible idea, but if it is to go  to referendum the Governor and his appointees should not be calling the shots.

 Dear Legislator:                                                                                                          

Even if new to the Legislature, you don’t need an alert or reminder to know that soon you will consider in committee or on the floor “second passage” of S06734.  Enacted on March 14, 2012, this was a proposal to amend Article 1, Sec. 9 of the NYS Constitution to allow “no more than seven” casinos to be built “as prescribed by the Legislature.”  If a like bill is passed by both chambers in 2013, the proposal to amend will be put to public referendum.

 Coalition Against Gambling in New York (CAGNY) believes this amendment would create tens of thousands of new addicted gamblers and problem gamblers.  The figures for this forecast can be seen and downloaded at    http://tinyurl.com/aas2tew The harm to each person so affected would be multiplied by eight or ten times as family, friends, and associates are inextricably caught up in the misery…. or have to flee it!

CAGNY observes  that the Governor, who urged this amendment early in 2012, has ignored the collateral damage from “recapturing,” by new in-state casinos, gamblers who have been going out of state.  In not acknowledging  this collateral damage, he says in effect that thousands of NYS residents are expendable.  Do you believe that too?

You will hear over and over that “the State needs the money.”  CAGNY does not deny that the State needs money.  We don’t deny, either,  that governments at times  lay out money putting  lives at risk—soldiers and first responders, for example.  We do hold that government should never plan a revenue-raising strategy that exploits illness and misery in its people !  Government  should never on purpose enable life-threatening addictions!

 We don’t know when the vote will be.  In the days to come, however, we will return to your door often with more handbills that show why a “no” on second passage is a vote for truly good government.  We’ll try to meet with you in person. We welcome your questions and your requests for detailed background.  Feel free to call 917-453-7371 or e-mail our Chairperson at sqs@columbia.edu.

States Playing “Race to the Bottom” with Casinos

Image Source: (Syracuse Journal, September 18, 1891) “A romanticized cutaway sketch of an early Erie Canal packet boat.”http://stagecoachdays.blogspot.com/

That the amendment proposed to the NYS Constitution for 2013 would greatly increase the occurrence of problem gambling and gambling addiction in New York is a strong argument against its utility.  Another is that it would if passed set neighborhoods and other community levels against each other in hostile and envious competion  where everyone loses in the end.  This can be framed as a Prisoner’s Dilemma, a staple in game theory.

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