The new year is shaping up to be an exciting one for the gaming industry. It has been nearly a decade since the last major increase in the number of legal casino gaming jurisdictions, but with no less than 20 states currently considering some form of gaming expansion, the industry is set to embark on a new period of stimulating growth.
But with these new opportunities come renewed challenges. With gaming issues at the forefront of many state political agendas, it’s déjà vu all over again. Gaming opponents are once again seizing the publicity opportunity to trot out old myths about gaming’s dangerous potential. These opponents are relying on the same arguments they used nearly a decade ago in attempts to quash expansion of the industry, and the media has so far been taken by the ruse. It’s the same old song and dance in clearly worn out shoes.
A closer look reveals that gaming detractors have not done their homework. They have built their opposition on shaky ground, for we now have a decade’s worth of legitimate research, education and experience to debunk these old myths and demonstrate the true value of gaming to state and local jurisdictions across the country.
One need only look at the numbers to see the benefits gaming brings to communities. Nearly 80 percent of Americans consistently say they think casino entertainment is acceptable for themselves or others. And, over the past 10 years, the American gaming industry has become a major economic player, a fact that was recognized by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) in its independent analysis of the gaming industry in 1999. According to the NGISC report, gaming “…has become more than simply an entertainment past-time; the gambling industry has emerged as an economic mainstay in many communities and plays an increasingly prominent role in state and even regional economies.”
The NGISC also acknowledged the fact that casino gaming has created jobs and reduced levels of unemployment and government assistance in gaming jurisdictions. A separate study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NORC) found that communities closest to casinos experienced a 12 to 17 percent drop in welfare payments, unemployment rates and unemployment insurance. And a 1997 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed gaming industry employment also benefited local economies by increasing the sales of homes, major appliances and increasing charitable giving and volunteerism.
Faced with the overwhelming evidence of the economic contributions of gaming, critics took a new approach, contending that these benefits came at a cost, diverting dollars from existing businesses to gambling enterprises. But researchers at Penn State found no validity to this argument, stating opponents’ claims of cannibalization of pre-existing local restaurants and entertainment facilities to be “grossly exaggerated.”
Undeterred, the critics tried to prove a link between gaming expansion and an increase in bankruptcy and crime. But again, extensive research has rendered these arguments moot. The NGISC noted that there is no statistically significant cause-effect relationship between gambling and crime. And, a March 2000 report by the Public Sector Gaming Study Commission noted that security on the premises of gaming facilities, the multiple layers of regulatory control, and the economic and social benefits that gaming offers have actually served as effective deterrents to crime in casino communities.
On the bankruptcy front, a 1999 study by the U.S. Department of the Treasury showed no connection between state bankruptcy rates and either the extent of or introduction of casino gaming, and a NORC study the same year revealed instances of bankruptcies were no greater in casino communities than in communities without gaming. In fact, of the 24 counties in the United States with the highest bankruptcy filing rates, none have casino gaming.
With the economic arguments against gaming expansion clearly lost, opponents have turned their focus to the social costs of gambling, and the issue of problem gambling has taken center stage. But contrary to critics’ dire estimates, the National Academy of Sciences and Harvard Medical School estimate that the prevalence rate of pathological gambling is approximately 1 percent of the adult population. And, a 1997 meta-analysis by Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions found that gambling expansion during the past 25 years has not contributed to a comparable rise in this rate.
The gaming industry takes the issue of problem gambling very seriously, and our continued efforts to work with the National Center for Responsible Gaming, whose efforts have been well-documented in these pages, points to that commitment. So, while problem gambling continues to be an issue of extreme importance to the industry, the critics can no longer contend that the industry is doing nothing to solve the problem.
Faced with this mounting evidence, it would appear that the gaming critics have run out of arguments, but they continue to repeat them. Here’s hoping state legislators, the media and the public take a real look at the research and evidence pointing to the benefits of gaming as they consider expansion this year. Hard data and real facts should rule the day.