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.

No Place for Casinos

Dawn over Hudson River 12/25/2010DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Every week CAGNY (courtesy of our anti-gambling allies  at NYCF) distributes a one-page handout to the offices of all legislators.  In the  bulletin to legislators of March 5 (posted last week on this site as “Central Statistic”), we stated that it is the practice of the casino cartel, which gets  35-50%  of  its profits from out-of-control gamblers,  to foster  irresponsible gambling while pretending not to.  To learn how the fostering is done, read Addiction by Design (Natasha Schull, 2012, Princeton University Press). 

     This post, which will be the  CAGNY bulletin for March 12,   is not on that crucial topic.  It is  about the façade that gambling promoters (private and governmental) put up to look sincere and caring. Part of the act is token sums for research (e.g. to National Center for Responsible Gaming); also for secondary* and tertiary**  prevention to  good, small  advocacy agencies like the National Council on Problem Gambling.  [Most tertiary prevention in this country is provided by GA and Gam-Anon, both all-volunteer organizations.  Neither accepts any outside support. ]

     In New York State most of the meager (near-zero, now) funding to prevent problem gambling has come from legislative appropriations to agencies like Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS).   Lottery and tribal casinos don’t contribute directly to statewide treatment and prevention. 

     If the constitution gets amended,  a legislator will surely  ask on behalf of OASAS and the NYS Council on Problem Gambling that some money coming  to the state from the new casinos go to “treatment and prevention of problem gambling.”   Likely some would, at least for a while.  How much, who knows?  Consider, though, that the revenues projected from casinos for 2016 have a much nobler-sounding destiny than treating gambling addicts.  They are supposed to be 90% “to support education”  and 10% to relieve property tax burdens.  If legislators must choose between allocating (say) $5M of the projected $150M  to counseling for problem gamblers or to “education,”  the addicts and their families will lose.  They always have.  Massachusetts announces intent to spend more than any other state. http://preview.tinyurl.com/ckkhy8p  Good luck, Bay State!

     Even if a huge revenue stream dedicated forever to treatment and prevention of problem gambling could be legislated, it would still be too little and too late to undo the mayhem of gambling. When do addicts enter treatment if not compelled by a judge?  When  they’ve  lost  everything.  Lives can be improved by treatment of  problem  gambling, but the clock does not run backwards.

     The best prevention of problem gambling is primary  prevention . A practical facet of this is an ecological strategy — no new casinos.  We have too many “slots”  now.  Vote  NAY on second passage.

     * This writer defines secondary prevention as keeping someone experienced in gambling who is not yet a problem gambler from turning into one (e.g. “Responsible Gaming” education, HOPEline signs). **Tertiary prevention is defined as steps (e.g. private counseling with or without 12-step program) to begin and sustain recovery from situations that meet at least some criteria for pathological or problem gambling.

    The opinions in this post are those of the writer,  Stephen Q. Shafer MD MPH,  and do not necessarily reflect those of any or all members of CAGNY. Permission is granted to reproduce in whole or part while acknowledging the source using the permalink above.

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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