WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
Casino-Voters

Massachusetts recently passed a law allowing casino gambling. In response, the Rt. Rev. Douglas Fisher, Episcopal Bishop of Western Massachusetts, and two other men have put together something they call “a theology of casino gambling.”

This might be a surprise but I basically agree with all of it. After spending several paragraphs on the Biblical notion of casting lots, and particularly those Roman soldiers who cast lots for Jesus’ few Earthly possessions, Fisher gets to the nuts and bolts:

Second, just as it was two thousand years ago, gambling excludes the poor. In Springfield, Massachusetts, where a referendum just passed to allow an MGM casino, its ten million dollar ad campaign promoting local jobs is as credible as beating the house. Most well-paid positions will likely be filled by people from other places, and the construction jobs created to build the casino are by their nature, temporary.

Even the people who are hired won’t get paid very much.

Those lucky enough to secure permanent employment are sure to be disappointed. On average, card dealers earn $15,810 a year – inadequate to support a family of two in most Massachusetts communities. Indeed, a family earning this amount is eligible for Food Stamps, WIC, Fuel Assistance, Utility Shutoff Protection, Mass Health, and Section Eight Rental Vouchers.

Considering who patronizes casinos, states shouldn’t count on raking in the jack from one of those things.

“Lower taxes” that are claimed to help the poor appear equally illusory. Statistics show that casino gambling – specifically that facilitated by slots machines – generates its income in undue proportion from the lowest economic classes. The tax burden is therefore shifted from a relatively more equitable distribution to one in which the already economically deprived are further compromised.

Do you know how much money people have to lose in order for the state to get a decent return?

Based on the experience of Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, the 200 million dollar state tax revenue generated in 2007 required that 40,000 people lose an average of $234 every day, 365 days a year.

Then there are all the “side benefits.”

On the local level, net social benefit is similarly absent. According to Susan Mendenhall, former Mayor of Ledyard, CT, home to Foxwoods: “The drugs, the guns, the prostitution. It just follows the money and people don’t want to talk about it. Our sleepy little town did not have this kind of problem, but it’s everywhere now. It’s been so painful for us.”

And don’t count on attracting any decent new business.

It should thus not be surprising that companies resist locating in “casino cities.” As important to Springfield as such companies could be, allowing a gambling casino may well be a death knell to an economic future on which its citizens depend. If it is true that casinos are a proven vacuum cleaner that sucks the life out of the public square, it is those on its margins – especially the poor – that stand to lose the most.

What about all the existing restaurants and bars who will attract new business? Easy; they won’t.

It is argued that at least middle-class shop and restaurant owners benefit from casinos. Yet this has not been the experience of either local business people or casino owners themselves. In Atlantic City, one-third of the city’s retail businesses closed within just four years of the casino’s arrival, and the number of independent restaurants dropped from forty-eight to sixteen between the casino’s opening and 1997 – a loss of two-thirds. In the words of current Ledyard, Connecticut Mayor, Wesley Johnson, “There has been no economic development spin-off from the casino. Businesses do not come here. Tourists come mainly to gamble. Gamblers have one thing in mind: get to the casino, win or lose their money, get in their cars, and go home.”

Because even the big playas are honest enough to admit that if you can eat or drink relatively cheaply inside one of their casinos, what in the world would you need another bar or restaurant for?

One might expect that casino owners would argue for the economic advantages of casino development. But according to two of the most powerful casino owners in the country, this is not the case. Las Vegas-based Steve Wynn said to a group of Connecticut business owners, “Get it straight, there is no reason on earth for any of you to expect for more than one second that just because there are people here at my casino, they are going to run into your store or restaurant or bar.” And casino magnate Donald Trump observed, “People will spend a tremendous amount of money in casinos, money that they would normally spend on buying a refrigerator or a new car. Local businesses will suffer because they lose customer dollars to the casinos.”

Let Fisher bottom-line it for you.

While the Episcopal Church stands ready to help those destined for still deeper poverty—those who will be victims of the increased crime, or those introduced to gambling addictions—it would be negligent, if not irresponsible for the Church to avert its eyes from the reality that gambling isn’t good for anyone, and least of all, for the poor.

Like I said, there’s not much to argue with here. None of it will matter, of course, since Massachusetts politicians, especially those bought and paid for by the casino industry, will hallucinate gazillions of dollars in Massachusetts state accounts and completely forget that guys like Steve Wynn and Donald Trump are not humanitarians and didn’t get as rich as they are by making money for other people.

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