Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Casinos: Not that it matters now...

Not that it matters now that the Commonwealth's casino bill has passed into law, but the Wall Street Journal is carrying a must-see front page article today on the various measures cash-strapped casino host states are taking to try and boost gaming revenues to cope with persistent budget gaps.  Another look into our likely future, now that we've placed our collective bet on casino gaming:
A key vote in Missouri Wednesday will decide whether to relax measures aimed at keeping gambling addicts out of casinos, the latest push by a cash-strapped state to make gambling restrictions less stringent.

The Missouri Gaming Commission is deciding whether to scrap a voluntary lifetime blacklist for problem gamblers and replace it with a five-year suspension. That would allow nearly 11,000 self-banned gamblers back into the state's 12 riverboat casinos. The self-exclusion list, implemented in 1996, has been a centerpiece of Missouri's efforts to manage gambling addiction, and has been emulated in at least eight other states—usually without the lifetime ban.

Several states have sharply increased betting limits since legalizing gambling. Colorado changed its maximum bet in 2009 to $100 from $5, and allowed casinos to operate 24 hours a day. Previously, they were required to close from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. South Dakota raised maximum bets in 2000, and Florida last year eliminated its limit altogether.

Such changes to gambling safeguards are driven in part by a push to boost tax revenue, as state governments balance their efforts to protect gambling addicts with the need to address fiscal woes. In addition, the gambling industry argues that the rules hardly curb gambling addiction.

States including Missouri, Iowa, New York and Nevada have also reduced funding for treatment of gambling addicts. In Florida, officials cut funding for the Council on Compulsive Gambling, a nonprofit group that coordinates treatment programs, to a tenth of the $2.6 million it was to receive this year so they could fill budget gaps elsewhere.
Once again the irony is too rich to be ignored.  Just like the gamblers on whom they prey, busted casino states glance about with bleary eyes and decide impulsively to up the ante.  If they bet more surely they will win more, and all of the prior losses will be wiped away.  

Gaming advocates quoted in the WSJ article claim - correctly, I'd think - that voluntary gambler ban lists are largely symbolic and almost entirely ineffective in curbing problem gambling.  But how about those extended hours and increased bet limits?  And how about that ninety percent cut in funding for gambling addiction programs that Florida just implemented "so they could fill budget gaps elsewhere."  With the claims and promises of the Commonwealth's casino pushers still ringing fresh in our ears, those developments in more seasoned gaming states hit kind of close to home, no?

What's a busted state to do? Why, up the ante of course!
 There are two main points to be taken away here: First, casinos do not solve state budget problems.  The states that have them spend the additional revenue... then go looking for more.  This will happen here, sure as the sun rises.  And second, all of the blather about programs and curbs and safeguards deployed to sell gaming to a naturally skeptical public is just that: blather.  It all goes quickly by the wayside when the state's pile of chips shrinks too small.

Casino backers will brush all of this aside if they notice it at all.  It won't happen here, they'll insist.  We've learned from other states' mistakes.  We've adopted "best practices."  We - Massachusetts - are going to be the first to do it right.

And that assumption is easy to make - so long as one ignores our propensity for spending.  And the huge future budget gaps created by over-reliance on one-time revenues in each of the Patrick/Murray budgets.  And the wholly unrealistic revenue and jobs projections used to sell casinos to Massachusetts.  And our deep and ingrained culture of political corruption

But yes, if one ignores all of those things I suppose it is fair to assume that what is currently happening in Missouri, and Colorado, and South Dakota, and New York, and Iowa, and Nevada, and Floria is not likely to happen here in Massachusetts.

1 comment:

  1. While taking steps to boost gaming revenue may help, that is definitely not the complete solution to budget gaps. Officials should be looking at more than one way to earn revenues.


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