With more than a dozen gaming-related ballot initiatives under consideration in states across the country this year, the stage was set for Election Day 2002 to have a major impact on our industry. Numerous governors’ races prominently featured candidates’ positions on gambling, and several states took a close look at the possible expansion of the industry in their area. While many of the results could affect the gaming industry in the coming months, from my view, no result had more significance than the decision by voters in Iowa to renew their support for casino gaming.
For years, gambling critics have contended that - sooner or later - the social costs of gambling would outweigh its economic benefits. Critics portended increased crime, family problems, bankruptcies and other problems that would cannibalize gaming communities. “Just wait five years,” they warned, as more and more states across the country introduced legalized casino gaming in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “Just wait and see what will happen.”
On Election Day, voters in Iowa sent a clear message about just what has happened in their state, and their message was indisputable: the critics were wrong.
Iowans in each of the state’s 11 counties had the opportunity, as they do every eight years since 1994, to decide whether or not casino gaming should continue in their communities. They answered a resounding “yes,” with overwhelming majorities in each county voting in favor of keeping their casinos.
A simple majority was all that was required to keep casinos in Iowa, but each county far surpassed that number. Each and every county reported more than 63 percent of voters in favor of casinos, with all but three reporting more than 70 percent in support. In Pottawattamie County, Iowa’s biggest gambling market, affirmative votes totaled 79 percent. These are remarkable numbers. The data is not only encouraging for the future expansion of gaming across the country, but also serves to validate past research and analysis of the true impact of our industry at the community level.
When the National Gambling Impact Study Commission released its final report on the industry in 1999, it noted, “[T]he gambling industry has emerged as an economic mainstay in many communities and plays an increasingly prominent role in state and even regional economies.” There’s no doubt that, 11 years after the first casino opened in Iowa, voters there clearly recognize the benefits of casinos in their region and the impact the tourism and entertainment dollars have made on the state.
The election results in Iowa also reflect polling results from a recent AGA survey of casino entertainment. Last year, we focused some of our questions on individuals who live in communities with casinos. Like Iowa, residents of casino communities nationwide indicated by a 68 percent to 26 percent margin that, if given the option, they would vote to keep casinos in their community. Overwhelmingly, they also felt that casinos have had a positive impact on the local economy and job market. The conclusion? Those who know casinos the best embrace them the most.
According to data from the Iowa Gaming Association, Iowa riverboat casinos and racetracks employ more than 10,000 people in the state with an annual payroll of more than $200 million. In addition, the industry contributes more than $200 million in state and local taxes, generating revenues for the capital investments that have led to the development of roads, schools, libraries, hospitals, recreation areas and other community improvement projects all over the state.
Casino and racetrack operators in Iowa also contribute millions of dollars a year to important charitable causes in their communities. One example of this benevolent spirit can be witnessed in the Iowa West Foundation, funded by the Iowa West Racing Association. In 2001 alone, the foundation contributed more than $28 million in grant money to 83 different organizations and government entities for the purposes of developing projects to improve local communities in Iowa.
Clearly, our industry has made a difference in Iowa. More people have jobs, once-sagging economies are on the mend and communities are enjoying more opportunities for growth than ever before. Last month, Iowa voters showed the nation those developments have not gone unnoticed.
It is one thing for me, as president of the American Gaming Association, to tout the benefits and contributions of the casino industry in this country. It is, as they say, part of the gig. It is of far greater importance when the members of a community who live with our industry every day stand up and serve notice that the casino industry is making their communities better places to live.
Iowans’ support at the polls was a clear rejection of claims by gambling opponents that long-term negative consequences of casinos exceed any positive impact. No academic study or so-called independent expert can substitute for a vote of the citizens who have witnessed firsthand the true impact of casino gaming.