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.

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.

Continue reading

Disposition of Revenues from Casino Taxes: a Projection

 

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Disposition of Revenues to New York State Residents from Casino Taxes per Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013: a Projection

 

 

 

On Monday, Sept 23 2013 at 12:01 AM EDT,  Coalition Against Gambling in New York released a report of high interest to all New York State voters and taxpayers.  Governor Cuomo has touted the proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize casinos as a benefit to all New Yorkers.  Now dubbed “Proposal One,”  it will be presented with heavy bias on the ballot for  a “yes” vote. Click on the link right below to read opinion of the NY Daily News about the ballot langauge.  http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/house-wins-article-1.1454344

The framers of “Proposal One”  must hope voters won’t have thought about pros and cons until they enter the booth.  To counter this deliberate neglect by the casino promoters, we made conservative assumptions to project the impact of the amendment’s  passage on property tax bills around  the state. 

In our projections, if the amendment passes, the  benefits (as property tax relief or aid to education) to individuals from taxes on casinos’ gaming revenue would vary enormously (by more than twenty-fold) from place to place.   The size of these disparities is not rationalized in the legislation that prescribes them.   These tax relief measures if enacted  would hardly change the personal property tax situation for a majority of the state’s population.   We project, for example,  that if 80% of  the taxes paid to the state by four  exceptionally busy new casinos  were disbursed uniformly to the  whole state entirely as property tax relief, residents of “downstate” (NYC, L.I., Westchester, Rockland and Putnam) would have just $20  of relief per adult per year.    The “relief” to more than 99% of taxpayers if the amendment passes would  be less than the conservatively-projected  increase in hidden quantifiable social costs of legalized gambling to be expected from adding “up to seven”  new casinos.  In short, for almost all New Yorkers in relation to taxes cons >> pros.

Readers can develop their own scenarios and projections using our straightforward methods.  

Click on the link to see a pdf of the 22-page report, divided into Summary, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusions and Appendix.     UNYGEDASept22_Final

This version varies slightly from that sent to members of the press and other media on Sept 18 in advance of release to the public in early morning of Monday Sept 23.  Changes are shown at the end.  

Opinions in this piece are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of any or all other members of Coalition Against Gambling in New York. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this post  in whole or part as long as there is a citation to the permalink above. Corresponding author is Dave Colavito ddcolavito@gmail.com .  You may request a pdf version of the report by e-mail.

 

 

 

Invest in Recovery

 

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Dusk on the Neversink
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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.