Thursday, September 26, 2013

Casinos do harm? Pshaw!

Sifting through the Drudge Retort this morning (on my Feedly RSS news feed), I came across an interesting article discussing the merits of local casinos.  Drudge pointed to an opinion piece on CNN discussing the harm that casinos do to communities - something which I can relate to, as Maryland recently voted to expand gaming within its already established casinos and add 2 new casinos within the next 4-5 years.

I recommend reading the article if you have a moment, but the crux of it is something that I had suspected for years: "[S]tate-sponsored casino gambling ... parallels the separate and unequal life patterns in education, marriage, work, and play that increasingly divide America into haves and have-nots. Those in the upper ranks of the income distribution rarely, if ever, make it a weekly habit to gamble at the local casino. Those in the lower ranks of the income distribution often do. Those in the upper ranks rarely, if ever, contribute a large share of their income to the state's take of casino revenues. Those in the lower ranks do."

Look, the reality is that I'm all for allowing people to do as they choose.  If you don't want to wear a helmet when you ride a motorcycle - and you're someone who's mature and responsible enough to make that decision - more power to you... You're obviously smarter than the data and research that otherwise suggests that wearing a helmet gives you a greater chance of surviving a serious crash.  Don't want to wear a seatbelt?  Same answer as above (so long as you're an adult and deemed responsible to make decisions for yourself; kids are a different matter).

However, I think that purposely allowing casinos to open in areas easily accessible to lower income earners is a terrible choice.  I'll own up to the fact that I voted for Maryland's Question 7 - "Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education to authorize video lottery operation licensees to operate "table games" as defined by law; to increase from 15,000 to 16,500 the maximum number of video lottery terminals that may be operated in the State; and to increase from 5 to 6 the maximum number of video lottery operation licenses that may be awarded in the State and allow a video lottery facility to operate in Prince George's County?"

The reality is that I really wish that we as residents could have voted for the individual approval though.  I never would have voted for a Baltimore casino if I had the option.  According to the Baltimore Sun and the U.S. Census Bureau, "One quarter of Baltimore residents (and 37% of Baltimore children) live in poverty."  Baltimore's poverty far supersedes the 15% nationwide poverty rate.

So let me get this straight:
  • Casinos most deeply affect the poor and downtrodden
  • The percentage cash expenditure of gambling vs. income by people in poverty is far higher than those in the upper income distribution
  • We're [Maryland and its residents] putting a casino in an area easily accessible to a poverty stricken city
In effect, Maryland (and Baltimore) is indirectly angling to deepen the plight of the poor by extracting more revenue out of a people who [theoretically] can't help themselves.  Not only that, but the casino is going to be put it in a convenient location - walking distance from many poor parts of the city - where the community can be more readily drained of the contents of their meager wallets. 

Sounds rife with stupidity on the state's part...  Maybe I do have some liberal blood left in me after all...  

P.S.  I wanted to share this tangentially-related statistic, also cited in the CNN article: ""a Canadian study that finds that the 75% of casino customers who play only occasionally provide only 4% of casino revenues. It's the problem gambler who keeps the casino in business."  A poor and/or problem gambler is a recipe for communal strife in my book.

P.P.S. And please don't comment about how ironic it is that I'm writing this but yet I'm a poker player doing the same thing on a man-to-man basis.  I think poker sees very few walking poor sitting in at the tables.  Perhaps it is due to my limited, myopic view of the world, but I see far more problem gamblers who at least give the appearance they can afford it than I see poverty stricken individuals.


  1. it is the same with lottery tix sales. the highest revenue of lottery sales come from lower income give ppl escape from their shitty lifes DREAMING of hitting it BIG.

    1. True. Freakonomics was discussing the possibilities and potentials of giving poor people a bucket of cash. "What would be the socioeconomic effects if the 50 wealthiest Americans each gave $50,000 to 50 different American families, repeating this practice annually with new beneficiaries? How about if these families were targeted in a limited area; say, across some of the poorest neighborhoods in Brooklyn?"

      Interesting - I think it comes down to education - both financial and vocational - in order to push someone out of poverty.

    2. love that book. the baby names is classic

  2. While I agree that I do not want to be part of perpetuating the problem of poverty, does the location of the establishment or the type of game offered really matter? This was something that troubled me from time-to-time when I would come across someone that was likely gambling with their rent money, child-support or something to that effect. It was at that point where guilt came across me and I contemplated the morality of taking winnings from a player that was scared and was quite obviously "dead money". The way I internalized, or justified it, was that if it wasn't here it would be somewhere else. Meaning if they weren't playing at my table in that room of that casino in that state, it would be playing Keno at the liquor store, or scratch-offs at the 7-11, or dice behind the bowling alley. I think the point you made about "they can help themselves" is very true and I think education and outreach is the only remedy, not a longer walk or bus-ride to an establishment that will indiscriminately and unconditionally bet against them.

  3. In all honesty, our country (US) sorely lacks in the financial education department, regardless what walk of life you come from. We don't teach personal finance in our schools, we don't teach basic investments until at least college, we don't teach risk management or how insurance works. People are not going to teach themselves how to do something unless pushed to do so - I, personally, was interested in reading about the above in order to grow my wealth. I don't know how it's done in other countries, but I think we've failed here with regard to the above.

  4. This has shown itself in the UK as well, as the highest concentration of online betting storefronts are in the poorest of areas. @PokerMeister you are absolutely right, we don't teach those kinds of things in our schools, nor do we practice them in our government as exemplified by the vast US debt. Surely one thinks why gambling is prevalent in the less fortunate is the fact that the psychological thrill is based on the own persons assumed risk. For instance, I can lose a $1,000 and its not a big deal at all, bit others even playing with $100 causes great excitement, the thrill and rush that causes the chemical release in the brain and triggers the pleasure center. The demographic to reach those excited people, the ones that are ready to spend money is as you pointed out, in the poverty ridden areas. Is this wrong? You could say that just like buying an alcoholic booze, they would get it anyway and sometimes hitting rock bottom is the only way. Besides there is always that slim chance...

    Great read btw.


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