From the Front Lines Against Predatory Gambling

Nelson Acquilano photoA Stop Predatory Gambling National Day of Action in Geneva NY 26 September 2015 was co-sponsored by  CAGNY, Women’s Interfaith Institute, Geneva Assembly of God “Celebrate Recovery,” Phelps Baptist Church, and Concerned Citizens of Seneca County (CCSC).       Nelson Acquilano. LMSW, MPA, MA gave the audience his views on the untrue assertion that making  predatory gambling more convenient benefits the community and the region.  Mr Acquilano (pictured) is on the Board  of Directors of CAGNY.

” My name is Nelson Acquilano. Many of you know me because of the work I have done in the Finger Lakes and because of the many different human service groups and agencies I have worked with over these past 40 years.

We have a terrible problem in New York. Our families, our communities are in great crisis. But this is not an economic problem. No, New York has a Quality of Life Problem… and it is a real crisis for our families and our community.  It will only further decline if we allow it.

New York has a high rate of crime…. a high rate of divorce, high rates of child abuse, academic underachievement, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse.….. our jails are full, our schools are faltering, and our families are failing. Now given this background, the introduction of gambling in New York is contra-indicated.

Given these community problems, to allow a known environmental carcinogen such as gambling into an otherwise delicately balanced community… to take a powerful risk factor, a known risk factor — and allow it to flourish will only further undermine the healthy families and healthy communities we are trying to build and maintain.

Gambling is one of the most destructive dynamics that can be introduced into a community, and when it is – it spreads like a cancer – like an epidemic, leaving broken lives, broken families, and broken communities in its path.

All states that have legalized gambling have found subsequent dramatic increases not only in the incidence of compulsive gamblers, but in crime, family dysfunction, divorce, bankruptcy, and mental illness. But by then it’s too late. Once legalized, communities cannot reverse the trend and control the increase in the gambling addiction and negative consequences.

Compulsive gambling leads to many thousands of personal and family bankruptcies each year. It leads to lost homes, broken families, lost savings accounts, lost college funds, and to a dramatic increase in crime including embezzlement at business. It is strongly correlated with mental illness, and also seriously affects the spouse, children, parents, and friends of the problem gambler.

Some states have reported that divorce tripled after the introduction of casinos. Others reported an explosion in domestic violence.

Other research shows that gambling is indirectly subsidized by the taxpayers. For every dollar that gambling contributes in taxes, it usually costs the taxpayers at least 3 dollars (and higher numbers have been calculated) because of major increases in the welfare system, mental health system, and the criminal justice system. The ultimate cost in broken families and disintegrated communities from gambling never even comes close to justifying it as a means to raise revenue.

Gambling is exploding across America but America is not ready for the consequences.

The National Council on Problem Gambling has found that pathological gamblers have a suicide rate twenty times higher than non-gamblers.

Now if we could stop an epidemic – something that would destroy tens of thousands of families wouldn’t we have an imperative – a compelling moral and ethical responsibility to serve and protect our families?

And that is why I am against gambling anywhere in New York State, but especially in the Finger Lakes. Studies show that the negative consequences impact not just upon the host community, but all communities within a 50 mile radius…. the region I have served for the last 40 years. Gambling is simply the worst strategy for a delicate community.

I would like to leave you with a few final points:

1) It never ceases to amaze me how the moral and ethical implications of gambling are so easily dismissed. When I see casino owners say that the future of gambling is with our youth and we need to have more youth gamble, when I see a casino that comes out and targets women to get more women to gamble, when I see a casino develop a youth program to get more college students to the tables….. then I need to question the morality of that entire industry.

In fact, one college Chaplin told me he is increasingly experiencing college students with a high percent of gambling issues – losing their tuition and room and board monies.

And by the way, a couple of years ago, researcher Natasha Schull who wrote the book “Addiction by Design” was in Rochester. She explained how the gambling industry models psychological experiments on rats for behavior modification techniques on humans, to increase time – and money spent – sitting and playing at slot machines.

She explained extensive studies on Time-on-Device, on algorithms of “Intermittent Positive Reinforcement”, and on how the gambling industry studies the best variance of high-frequency low payout wins and low-frequency high payout wins to keep you gambling. These are some of the strongest shapers of human behavior.

And today’s slot machines are actually learning your preferred method of play….. it hasn’t reached the level of artificial intelligence yet, but according to Natasha… the machines are studying YOU.

There are some 30 organizations opposed to casino gambling in New York, including:- The Institute for American Values

The New Yorkers Family Research Foundation

        and
–   the Roman Catholic Church

– the Episcopal Church

– the United Methodist Church…

– the Baptists….
– the Interfaith Impact of New York State, and

– the New York State Council of Churches!

The Catholics….. Methodists, Baptists and Episcopal Churches are all publicly on record as denouncing the expansion of gambling…..   and I don’t know about you… but I prefer to listen to them for my spiritual health and wellness.

2) Second, the gambling industry follows a business model – that model is all about growth and expansion….. to survive, profits need to grow, which means more and newer ways to gamble… and more and newer ways to get non-gamblers to the table.

At the Senate Hearing one gambling company was asked if they are concerned about the proliferation and saturation of gambling, and their response was “no”, that is not a concern of ours.

Well let me say that it is a concern of ours! And it is already happening. There are all types of efforts to expand gambling throughout New York State. We’ve opened Pandora’s Box.

There is one Italian City, Pavia, that has so much gambling, that it has surpassed most every other city for debt, bankruptcies, depression, domestic violence and broken homes.
It is devastating to the community, and now the people said they have had enough and are trying to pass legislation to curb gambling.

3) And third, if you take a look at the true voting outcome for Proposition I, even with all the manipulation and irregularities to get the voters to vote for it….. Proposition I was voted DOWN in the central Finger Lakes region:

If you include….. Ontario County, Cayuga County, Monroe, Onondaga, Schuyler, Seneca, Wayne and Yates Counties….. 125,031 voted to pass Prop I, but over 126,648 voted against it!

Developers wanted to put a casino in Rochester, but the people defeated it….. they wanted to put a casino in Syracuse, and the people defeated that…. And now they are trying to put one here in the Finger Lakes….

I believe that local citizens groups should be honored, not demonized, for their fight against a proposed casino.

You know, Governor Cuomo accepted some $715,000 from the gambling industry prior to changing the constitution, although he did not include gambling in his pre-election platform. According to Common Cause, over $47 million had been spent on lobbying and campaign contributions to other senators and assemblymen by the gambling industry prior to the changing of the NYS Constitution.

And there have been other discrepancies and irregularities, even with Proposition I itself.

I have reviewed over 100 gambling studies and articles, and I have yet to find one that says that gambling helps to build positive youth development. I have yet to see one that says that gambling supports healthy families. I have yet to see one that says that gambling builds strong communities… in fact, they all say exactly the opposite.

When local groups t recognize the real environmental impact – the human costs, and decide to commit themselves to fight such a devastating dynamic as casinos present, then I applaud their work….. and ask our representatives to remember that the fundamental purpose of public service is for the health, safety and welfare of our residents… and there is nothing about gambling that supports the health, safety and welfare of the people.

Thank you.”

Permission is hereby given to reproduce the words of the above text in whole or part as long as the above permalink is cited and Nelson Acquilano is credited as author.