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And the winning number is zero

In his State of the State Address today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York should amend its Constitution to legalize Las Vegas-style casinos.

Let's get to the economics issue later, because the key issue is a moral and ethical one—distinctions that our elected officials seem unable or unwilling to recognize these days. The key issue is that gambling is not a harmless activity. It's not as if the governor is advocating the establishment of badminton or bocce leagues throughout New York.

The National Council on Problem Gambling acknowledges that most adults who choose to gamble do so responsibly. But the council also points out that 2 million American adults meet criteria for pathological gambling in a given year. Another 4 million to 6 million are considered problem gamblers—people who experience problems due to their gambling behavior. (More here)

An article from Harvard Health Publications of Harvard University states: "Compulsive gamblers have high rates of depression, mania, alcohol and drug abuse, and some personality disorders. In a survey of Gamblers Anonymous members, 22 perecent reported panic attacks, 72 percent reported an episode of major depression, and 52 percent reported alcohol abuse. As in all such situations, it’s difficult to distinguish between causes and effects. The results of irrational betting while intoxicated lead to more drinking. Gambling losses cause depression, which leads to more gambling. Eventually, whatever the origin of the problem, the pattern becomes self-perpetuating." (More here)

Other research suggests gambling can lead to homelessness, suicide, divorce and crime. Despite these factors and others, though, the governor would like to open more casinos in New York. But let's assume he has in hand research that contradicts everything I've just written. This does not offset the fact that when people gamble, they lose money. Despite the occasional slot machine jackpots, people lose money. The state's take of gamblers' losses (casinos' winnings) is really nothing more than a new tax disguised as a game of blackjack or a roll of the dice at a craps table.

Let's set aside for a moment the very real costs that problem gamblers pay personally. Let's think instead about all of those adults who gamble responsibly. The opening of casinos throughout the state isn't going to give those folks more disposable income. They may gamble some of it away, but in the absence of nearby casinos, they are going to spend that disposable income elsewhere—tickets to an NHL or NFL game, a couple of nights of dinners and movies, or maybe a weekend getaway to an existing casino. The state already is reaching into their pockets when they spend those dollars. Casino gambling simply shifts disposable income from one pocket to another pocket for the state to pick. The amount of money in the pockets doesn't change.

What Cuomo's proposal comes down to, then, is a new tax implemented through new casinos. Unlike many taxes, though, this one comes with great personal and societal costs. Times must be very tough indeed if New York is going to rely on dice, cards and slot machines to help balance its budget.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 5th, 2012 01:58 pm (UTC)
Well said
Jan. 5th, 2012 02:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks. This is a flat-out cynical ploy by the governor.
Jan. 5th, 2012 04:04 pm (UTC)
Agreed. I have a friend who worked in Vegas in the '60's and '70s. He's told me that many responsible family men came through town at the time (and probably still do so today), thinking they could better their family's life by "doubling down", only to leave town on a bus ticket purchased by the casino.
Jan. 5th, 2012 04:07 pm (UTC)
Some people might say that information is anecdotal; I say it's a lot more "real" than cold, scientific studies.
Jan. 7th, 2012 09:36 pm (UTC)
When I think of casinos and gambling, I imagine driving on the 290, letting dollar bills fly out the open car window. I just don't get it. We might buy an occasional lottery ticket or join a fun pool of one sort or another at hubby's workplace, but that's the extent of our gambling activities.

Of course, we're always pondering what we'd do if we won a big lottery, so apparently we haven't quite connected the dots enough to grasp that you have to be in it to win it.
Jan. 7th, 2012 11:09 pm (UTC)
I think our lives would change but not all necessarily for the better if we won tens of millions of dollars.
Jan. 8th, 2012 03:26 pm (UTC)
I dunno...I'd like to think we're smart, caring, and ethical enough to be good stewards if entrusted with that kinda dough. I'd like to at least have the opportunity to give it my best shot.
Jan. 8th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
It's not us I'm worried about, it's the outside world: All the worthy causes that would come calling (how could we possibly choose from among them?), all the scammers and rip-off artists, and all the criminals that would try to take advantage of us. No matter what good you did with the money, people would always expect more.

The only remedy I see would be to move to a community where everyone has money so you wouldn't stand out, and those folks definitely are not my peeps.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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