Although it’s been more than five years since the National Gambling Impact Study Commission issued its final report, hardly a day passes when we don’t get a reminder of the significance of that work.
When legislators are considering gambling expansion, they often look to the commission as a resource. Before the commission, the only research that existed was either funded by the industry or conducted by a small cadre of gambling opponents. Today, if you’re a company looking to expand in a particular state or, as is the case with the AGA, you’re looking to simply provide accurate information, the commission’s research and findings have become invaluable to those efforts. Having access to that new body of work is a significant step forward for our industry, since it has finally allowed us to answer our critics with results from a third party.
The commission findings were particularly helpful in debunking many myths about the gaming industry. Through its research, the commission determined that the estimated pathological gambling prevalence rates are anywhere from 0.6 percent to 0.9 percent, even lower than the 1.1 percent rate estimated in the Harvard meta-analysis funded by the industry. It also estimated social costs of disordered gambling at a fraction of the amount estimated by opponents and confirmed that the presence of casinos does not affect bankruptcy or crime rates. And it documented some of the benefits we really already knew about: that casinos help promote tourism, job creation, and help lower spending on social services by reducing payments for welfare and unemployment.
As we all know, though, what came out of the commission was not all good. We are regularly being called upon to explain the commission’s supposed call for a moratorium on gambling expansion — when, in fact, the panel simply recommended that policy-makers take the time to consider all the pros and cons before making any decisions. Another source of confusion is the finding of a higher rate of problem and pathological gambling in those areas closest to casinos — when, in fact, using the same data one could reach the exact opposite conclusion. And a recommendation to ban college sports wagering was touted by lawmakers during the debate a few years ago over proposed federal legislation — when, in fact, it passed by a narrow 5-4 margin, and votes on most other recommendations were unanimous.
Knowing and understanding the findings of the commission is important to our effort demonstrating the positive impact of our business. Five-and-a-half years ago, the AGA compiled witness testimony, commission research and other data into a single publication called The Industry Report. Because it included non-commission research, this document quickly became dated. So, this year we have revised The Industry Report into a commission-only reference tool. The publication, renamed Casino Gaming in America: Key Findings of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (1997-99), will still include sections on economic impact, social impact, regulation, disordered gambling and responsible gaming, complete with quotes from U.S. and state senators, mayors, regulators, academics and other experts who testified before the commission. Whether you were there or not, this will serve as valuable — and evergreen — documentation of the hearings. If you’d like to order a copy of this new publication, visit the AGA’s e-store on our Web site at www.americangaming.org.
Another publication that derives much of its content from the commission is the Gaming Industry FAQ. This AGA publication, released just last year, has complete documentation for responses to some of the common allegations about our industry, which touch on economic and social impacts, pathological gambling, bankruptcy, crime, and gambling and seniors. If you read the FAQ on the Web, many of the footnoted items are actually linked to the source documents themselves. This item is available for purchase in our e-store as well.
Some of the other source documents referenced in the FAQ were actually spawned by the work of the federal commission. The U.S. Treasury Department conducted a study of bankruptcy, finding “no connection between state bankruptcy rates and either the extent of or introduction of casino gambling.” At the same time, a study issued by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, found “no conclusive evidence on whether or not gambling caused increased social problems in Atlantic City.” Both of these studies were conducted at the behest of the U.S. Congress in response to questions among gambling opponents about the validity of the commission research. Of course, all they did was confirm the commission’s findings in these two areas.
State initiatives such as the Public Sector Gaming Study Commission and the Indiana Gambling Impact Study Commission reached similar — and, in some cases, even more favorable — conclusions.
I think it’s fair to say that gambling and the gaming industry have been dissected more in the past decade than in all previous decades combined. This has given us a large body of research to draw upon when questions about our industry arise from policy-makers, the media and others.
This year, in recognition of the AGA’s 10th anniversary, we will be adding to the resources that encapsulate some of this information. The AGA 10th Anniversary Research Series, a set of white papers on industry issues, will document how far we’ve come in the past decade. Some of the topics we expect to cover are taxation, employee wages and benefits, civic participation, gaming as entertainment and recreation, the impact of gaming on the economy, the microeconomic impact of the industry, responsible gaming, work force diversity, Wall Street impact and an industry outlook. The first of the white papers is expected to be released this spring, with the remaining papers distributed periodically throughout the year. AGA members will receive the papers along with a commemorative 10th anniversary box to hold the entire series.
As the commission fades into the past, we need to keep reminding those who question the impact of our business that this independent body of work largely vindicated our industry. We need to be able to respond to distorted interpretations of their findings with a thorough understanding of the facts. Through the Gaming Industry FAQ, Casino Gaming in America and the AGA 10th Anniversary Research Series, we hope to give you tools to accomplish that so the material will be as relevant in five years as it was five years ago.