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Opinion
What you need to know for 01/23/2017

We can just ‘game’ our way to bliss

We can just ‘game’ our way to bliss

I just finished reading the new economic-impact study on casino gambling in New York state, commissi

I just finished reading the new economic-impact study on casino gambling in New York state, commissioned by the casinos themselves, and I can testify that if I hadn’t already read a few dozen similar studies over the years I would be completely blown away.

All those new jobs! All that economic output! All that money for schools! Wow!

I read it and I think, what are we waiting for? Let’s get on with it. Let’s pass an amendment to the state constitution and legalize craps and roulette and blackjack and other so-called table games and expand our racetrack casinos, including the one in Saratoga, accordingly. Let’s have full-fledged Las Vegas-style “gaming,” as the industry calls it.

You know what we’d get out of it? We’d get $1.2 billion in additional “gaming revenue,” according to this study. We’d get $1.8 billion in new construction to expand existing casinos. We’d get 10,300 new jobs.

Nobody gambles in these studies, by the way. They all game. Full-fledged casinos will attract a “substantial number of gamers from outside the state,” the study tells us.

Of course the nine existing racetrack casinos are already a great boon to the state.

Using IMPLAN, (“an economic modeling tool commonly used in conducting economic impact analyses,”) the casinos calculate that their mere “purchases of goods and services directly supported 793 full-time equivalent jobs,” which was the least of it, really.

They directly employed 5,431 people, and funneled $180 million to the horse-racing business, $73 million to local governments, over $1 billion to the state, for support of public schools, and so on and so on. You get the feeling that if we could get just get more people to “game” we would soon all be on easy street. Never mind those mindless slot machines with customers pecking away like rats in a laboratory. Get them hooked on blackjack and roulette and other grown-up games, and then you’d see the money roll in.

Nothing said about social costs, alas. The study makes it sound like pure gravy, as if everyone wins all around. The money that people lose in these casinos is called the “net win,” as seen from the casinos’ perspective, not the customers’. Of course the additional $1.2 billion projected in “gaming revenue” is nothing other than money out of the customers’ pockets. Customers will be induced to lose that much more because of the attraction of glamorous “table games,” is the idea.

That the money could conceivably be spent on something more productive does not enter into the IMPLAN calculations. It’s treated as a bonanza, though it doesn’t take an economics genius to see that it’s not a bonanza for the suckers who lost it. It’s just money down the drain, money not available to pay the rent or buy the groceries.

Social costs? Those would be the costs of bankruptcies and busted families due to uncontrolled losses on the tables. They’re not mentioned, though one academic who has studied the problem, Earl L. Grinols of Baylor University, calculates that the costs of legalized gambling outweigh the benefits by 3 to 1.

At first, when casinos are scarce and far apart, a community can get all the benefits and suffer only some of the costs by attracting suckers, or customers, from out of the area, but when all states and all communities start building casinos, then the losers don’t go back where they came from at the end of the day, they stay put. They’re local, and their social dysfunctions are local too. A “race to the bottom,” Grinols calls it.

Carrying the analysis to its logical conclusion, he writes in his book, “Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits,” “If everyone gambled to acquire his money, we would all starve.”

You won’t find any such gloomy thoughts in a study sponsored by the New York Gaming Association, however.

Their projections are all rosy. The more we gamble, or “game,” the better off we are, in their view. It means more construction jobs, more advertising jobs — the state spends $140 million a year encouraging us to gamble — more horse-breeding jobs, more everything. A regular economic banquet.

All we need to do is amend the state constitution, and how can we resist? Especially when you consider how much the casinos are likely to spend trying to convince us.

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