Problem Gambling Misery Summated

 

Graphic by Dave Colavito

Graphic by Dave Colavito

      The central statistic of casino finances is that 50% of taxable revenue comes from pathological and problem gamblers, about 4% of adults.  One evil of casino gambling is that almost none of the money that these unfortunate persons leave at casinos belongs clearly to them alone unless they have recently, and legally,  become very rich, without dependents.  Thus 50% of pre-tax revenue, more than 50% of profit, has been diverted from persons who may never have gambled, innocent bystanders or co-dependents.  Spouses, children, siblings, parents, employers, employees, clients – these are just a few examples.  The typical gambling addict is into eight, twelve, fifteen other people whom he or she will serially sacrifice to “the chase,” usually until it has consumed the gambler and destroyed all good social and emotional relationships.

     Most residents of the U.S. can recite that gambling addiction is a true addiction. Secretly, however, many believe it is a moral failing or a defect in reasoning that deserves catastrophe.  They rationalize that, if everyone can avoid a small increase in  personal tax outlays by the exenterating exploitation of the 4% who are problem gamblers,  that’s a win for the other 96%.   This “devil take the hindmost” approach may look utilitarian.  It does not take account of the dozen or more people around each problem gambler who are wrung out fiscally and emotionally in the quest for “more revenue to education.”  See the April 15 post “Robbing Peter” on this web site. 

      To comprehend the total misery dealt out by predatory gambling to a specified group of individuals would need much study. Consensus would be unlikely.  Economists like Earl Grinols have painstakingly  presented harm in terms of dollars.  While we respect this completely for cost-benefit analysis, we have always noted that  it understates the total impact, which is a stew of fiscal loss and emotional hurt.  Quantifying in an entire population the cumulative lifetime misery associated with problem gambling so as to reach consensus is impossible.  There are two aspects, however,  that everyone can agree on qualitatively.  First, the problem gambler alone does not sustain or mete out all the damage; second, not all the damage can be measured  econometrically.

          The graphic above, realized by Dave Colavito,  is an abstraction, not data-based.  It shows that the high casino profits due to problem gamblers,  which are taxed into “revenues to education” via gambling “regulated” or operated by state government come at the expense  — literal and figurative — of many more parties than those individual gamblers.  The “iceberg”  (actually it looks  more like a volcano rising above the waves from the ocean floor ) schematizes lifetime gambling-related cumulative misery as a function of psychosocial closeness to a problem gambler.  The problem gambler is the red apex.  The strata of adjoining locations represent lifetime cumulative misery of other parties at varying psychosocial distances from the problem gambler.  The anguish of a wife who has seen the furniture sold, the children made homeless and the husband she still tries to love gone  or jailed will be more than that of a client cheated or a friend whose loan to “help pay my kid’s doctor bill” is never repaid.  There are, however,  more clients and friends around a problem gambler than spouses.  Integrated  over all these more distant persons, the totality of hurt and loss is likely to exceed that of the very nearest and dearest. 

          However we define misery –as pure fiscal deprivation or that plus emotional damage  — it is not “just” the problem gambler who loses something lifelong  in the havoc of out-of-control gambling.  It is a dozen or more other people, whether innocent,  trusting, co-dependent or any combination. To the  casinos that prey on problem gamblers and governments that get income therefrom, these people are chopped liver.

Three references about impact on families http://s3.amazonaws.com/publicationslist.org/data/philip.darbyshire/ref-36/JGS%20gambling%20paper.pdf 

http://www.problemgambling.ca/gambling-help/support-for-families/effects-on-families.aspx

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17667890 

Permission is given by Cagnyeditor to reproduce this in full or part as long as the permalink above is cited and the graphic is attributed to Dave Colavito.

Invest in Recovery

 

Dusk on the Neversink 8745715895_222d9cfde0_mNeversink

Dusk on the Neversink
8745715895_222d9cfde0_mNeversink

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dave Colavito, at a CAGNY press conference in Albany on 4 June  2013,  presented this outline of a just scheme that would save NYS more than the hidden quantifiable socio-economic costs generated by legalized gambling each year.

  • The first step in helping local economies: Don’t make them worse.  Yet the Gov.’s plan will do just that, because it ignores the financial cost of gambling disorders.
  • Socioeconomic costs of gambling in NYS are now estimated at $3.7 billion annually
    • Exceeds revenues from all Atlantic City casinos in 2012
    • 381,000 Problem and 172,500 Pathological gambler costs burden all NYers
    • Gov.’s plan will produce more people (and costs) with gambling disorders.
    • FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE ALTERNATIVE: NYS INVESTS in RECOVERY, not CASINOS
      • Stop Denying the Problem
      • State share of tribal casino proceeds isn’t restricted for education
        • § Dedicate $600 million escrow & future proceeds: Recovery, Prevention
  • Fund Professional Training, Staffing, and Siting to Address the Need
  • Fund Aggressive Marketing Campaign: Promote Addiction Prevention & Recovery

SOCIAL Implications

 Gov. Cuomo Claims NYS is the Progressive Capital of the Nation

 FIVE CONSIDERATIONS:

 1. NYers afflicted with a disorder (Problem & Pathological gamblers) classified by the American Psychiatric Association exhibit measurably different brain function than the general population.

2. Predatory Gambling incites  those differences in brain function  

3. Symptoms of those afflicted worsen uncontrollably when re-exposed to Predatory Gambling   

4.Vendors of Predatory Gambling derive  50% of their revenue from  these afflicted persons and from those who trust(ed)  them and lost their resources too.

5. NYS actively promotes predatory gambling via Lottery including video lottery terminals and electronic table games; Gov. Cuomo now wants to increase that promotion with added full-blown casinos.

New Yorkers could almost zero out the hidden costs of gambling if the State invested to guide all problem gamblers (and their families and friends) to become again the people they  were before the first bet.  This would save money and save lives, not take away money and take away lives.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, Dave Colavito, and do not necessarily represent the opinion of any or all other members of CAGNY.  Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute in whole or in part as long as the above permalink is cited.

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.

 

Risks to Self and to Others: Where is the Line?

The Marshalsea Debtors' Prison, image from google

Gambling is the only personal behavior with high potential for harm to self and others actively encouraged  by civil government.  Why the anomaly?   Revenue

Most Americans say government  should  not legislate  behavior  any more than speech.  Risky or self-destructive actions  internal to an individual  are personal  freedoms when  they don’t infringe  on the rights or the welfare  of others.  That line, however,  is hard to define.  

Some smokers chafe at laws to ban smoking in indoor public places.  There, sensitivities  more than cancer-causing potential of second-hand smoke are detriments to others.  No laws limit smoking in a home with young children,  though  beating and starving are prohibited.  Inference: society considers domestic second-hand smoke relatively low-hazard.

Take  money. Most people say that government should not decree what individuals may do with funds to which they have access  (not necessarily  really theirs).  By this philosophy,  there should be no laws that one cannot literally burn money,  or spend it on valueless objects, or run up credit card debt or take out loans with no intent to repay.   There aren’t.  Even when others (close or remote) lose by these behaviors,  society  allows them. Inference: society considers wasting someone else’s money tough luck for that someone.

Recently I  heard  this  “personal freedoms”  theme from a friend about  legalized  gambling.   My first response was to point out that active pathological and problem gamblers always abuse others around them, psychologically and fiscally.  No problem gambler is an island.   Those in recovery have always left  mayhem behind.   Even if launched with millions,  like ex-Mayor Maureen O’Connor,  they will all if active  go broke eventually and start taking from others who trust them.  My friend is too conservative  or  too libertarian   to be swayed by the harm-to-others  case as I put it. 

He could not, however, refute the observation that no laws are made on purpose to encourage behaviors like heavy smoking around children at home.  In contrast, changing laws to expand gambling so the state gets money from it encourages gambling. Addiction and Problem Gambling follow in too many people, despite “preventive” nostrums.  

My friend acknowledged  that in legalizing  gambling  government  is not making irksome laws to curb personal  behavior.  Quite the reverse.   By licensing gambling  to get revenue (via lottery or tax on casino),  government actually legislates  in favor of  personal behaviors some of which are bound to hurt trusted others.  Those who say “legalized” gambling  entitles  anyone  to use available  money any way  he or she wants  deplore  a ban such as New York  has on non-tribal casinos.  A ban, though, is to buffer gamblers and innocents around them, not to draw them in, not to exploit them.   In granting license for gambling to raise revenue,  government becomes an exploiter.    This is plain wrong. 

 

Note : The picture (from Google.com) shows the Marshalsea  in 19th C. London.  Charles Dickens knew this prison well. His father, though not a gambler,  was usually  in debt.  Debtors were locked up, unable to earn money, until someone else sprang them.

The opinions in this post are those of the writer, Stephen Q. Shafer MD MPH.  They do not necessarily reflect opinions of any or all other members of CAGNY.  Permission is granted for reproduction in whole or in part as long as the source is acknowledged with the permalink above.

Forgotten collateral damage from government-in-gambling

from Flickr CC

from Flickr CC

What do the fourteen vignettes below have in common?  Can you guess  without the links?

1)      A 42 year old man in Michigan came home, fatally shot his pregnant wife and  their  three  children, then  himself.  http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=94936&page=1

2)      A father of two in VA gunned  down wife and son, shot his 11 year old daughter in the head, then killed himself .   Daughter described events (“bad dream” ),  died 3 days later .  http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-671609.html from Washington Post

3)      Father  in NV  left  7 year old daughter  in arcade under eye of her 14 year old brother.  She was raped and strangled in a bathroom by an 18 year old male. http://articles.latimes.com/2000/jul/07/local/me-48999

4)      An Iowa man just-divorced stabbed to death his ex-wife,  an executive at Arthur Anderson in Chicago.  He then drove off  with  their 7 year old daughter (seat-belted), swerved into oncoming truck.  Both were killed.  http://preview.tinyurl.com/bah4e8r

5)      In St Louis, a woman in her  late 20s was not at home when her 11 children died in a house fire.  http://preview.tinyurl.com/afjjftg

6)      Illinois woman reported death of 7-week old daughter due to SIDS, claimed $200,000 life insurance she had taken out on baby.  Fifteen months earlier another daughter had died at age 17 days.   Mother  had stated  SIDS.   http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1998-03-07/news/9803070058_1_insurance-fraud-dina-abdelhaq-sids

7)      Middle-aged Mississippi woman in good neighborhood shot to death husband and her mother while they slept.   http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2002-04-07/business/0204070020_1_neighbors-home-murder

8)      A  natural gas explosion in a house in Indiana when its occupants were out of town killed the couple next door and blew up five houses. tinyurl.com/cztdo5u

9)      A Rochester NY man strangled his fiancée when they quarreled the day before her bridal shower.   http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-157155335.html

10)   A 7 year old boy drowned in backyard  swimming pool at a day care facility.  The operator was off  the premises. http://articles.philly.com/2013-02-15/news/37102173_1_day-care-center-day-care-staff-members-day-care-office

11)   A Philadelphia grandmother was fatally stabbed and her 10-month old grand-daughter smothered by a 26 year old computer whiz who lived in same apt building.  http://articles.philly.com/2012-11-01/news/34838466_1_ransom-note-indian-expats-ransom-payment

12) A 28 year old man in CA was convicted in 2011 of having bludgeoned his parents to death with a bat in 2008 http://preview.tinyurl.com/bfnxy54

13) 92 year old woman in PA stabbed to death in 2011 by neighbor who had probably burgled her house several times before. http://preview.tinyurl.com/b6p4f3r 

14) added October 10 2014.  A 14 year old boy was left to baby-sit his 6-year sister while father went out with his lady friend,  came home much later  to find both unconscious from CO poisoning.  Little girl died in hospital, brother recovering.

The common threads  are gambling addiction and its  peri-gambler victims.  Gambling addiction and  peri-gambler victims are a predictable outcome, not a side effect,  of governmental policy described with much restraint by one notable critic as “failed.”  He might say “ rapacious and uncaring.”  This policy makes gambling legal not primarily to protect people by strict regulation from something harmful,  but to get government a piece of the action,  then grow the action “to support education.”  Thousands of   lives are hurt and dozens lost in this country each year under this policy. The gambling establishment and  compliant governments get away with it by misrepresenting the econometric costs and benefits and at the same time hiding the toll of unquantifiable human misery that is the direct consequence of this policy.

A frequent gambit by supporters of  government-sanctioned gambling is to say that revenue government gets from its sponsorship or “regulation” of gambling is a “sin tax,”  like  revenue from tax on tobacco or on liquor.   Some persons less moralistic, if more arrogant,  call it a “stupidity tax” or a “tax on ignorance.”  Two huge errors in this argument:

First, taxes on tobacco and alcohol are pigovian, meant as much to dampen consumption as to provide revenue.  The government actually spends money to discourage smoking.  It does not advertise that adults should drink more alcohol to get a shot at a better life and “fund education.”   Contrast this with the approach the NYS Lottery has taken in its nine-figure  advertising outlay of recent years.  Contrast it with Gov, Cuomo’s putting  up-front payments from three (?) new casinos in the proposed budget for 2016  before they  have been made legal.  Governments pretend legalized gambling is overall a beneficent enterprise.  They don’t want to impose tough restrictions or regulations ; those would decrease the flow or kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Second,  revenues to government from the sale of cigarettes and alcohol are not extracted from the bank accounts and home furnishings of  the  heavy smoker’s or the alcoholic’s family and friends.  Revenues from gambling are.  Smoking and drinking cause dreadful harm in many ways to non-smokers and non-drinkers.  An alcohol abuser can certainly make bad decisions resulting in injury, death  or  financial loss to someone else.  One cannot say, however, that the government set the stage for  the alcohol abuse, nor that government will get revenue if  an alcoholic in a fog sells his house for half its worth.  Another contrast here:   for most addicted and problem gamblers in the USA,  their loss is the direct gain of   the gambling exchange,  which passes a share to government.  The more they drop, the more the government gets.

Someone may still think of the problem gambler or pathological gambler as stupid or ignorant or sinful, deserving to pay a penalty for those defects.  No one with a heart, however, can think of the gambler’s young children or non-gambling spouse or unsuspecting   business partner  as deserving a penalty.  Yet these others are made to pay it, forward, backward and sideways.  It is paid in dollars, in anguish, and sometimes in death.  It is levied on six eight or ten persons for every problem gambler or addicted gambler.  They are forgotten, made expendable.

Who are the victims of predatory gambling?  Some observers see addicted and problem gamblers as victims themselves; others, as undeserving of pity. I consider problem gamblers victims and sufferers, but focus this essay on the peri-gambler victims.   They are always forgotten by legislative analysts.    Much more numerous than addicted and problem gamblers, they suffer more in the aggregate than the latter.

The  lurid stories above, all involving murder or negligence leading to death,  are among the most horrifying from the United States.  Click on the links it you are strong.  For each one like this, however, there are hundreds more that encompass other types of victimization related to the gambling market driven by government calls for more revenue (invariably “for education”) with “no new taxes.”  For example:

Not everyone who kills himself over gambling met the definition of       current  problem  gambler the day before the act. In the story here, from India in 2009, a 24 year old neophyte gambler  lost the meager savings he had set aside for his wife’s next childbirth http://preview.tinyurl.com/d92wfnt .  A near- suicide is  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=230336.  The gambler used his mother’s credit card to lose $10,000 on-line.  He was 9.

 

In short, government policy to make legalized gambling an ever-growing fount of revenues to itself exploits not only the gamblers, for whom not everyone has much sympathy, but also, in far greater numbers, many people around them for whom everyone must feel compassion.  Sympathy won’t come,  however, until their existence is acknowledged.  The gambling establishment and its supporters in government want to keep it a secret. Groups  like CAGNY and Stop Predatory Gambling have the challenge to shout about it.

“Mercy has a human heart and Pity a human face”   William  Blake, Songs of Innocence

The opinions in this essay are those of the writer, Stephen Q. Shafer MD MPH and do not necessarily reflect those of other members of CAGNY.  This post may be reproduced in part or in its entirety.  Please acknowledge the source using the permalink.

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