Our political leaders today love to talk about “job creation.” If they can promise nothing else — and “broadly distributed prosperity” seems too idealistic in these times of austerity — they want to assure voters that they are hard at work creating jobs of some sort. Any kind of jobs, really. Don’t ask too many questions about wages or hours or working conditions.
It’s in this rhetorical milieu that the casino gambling* industry has pounced, again and again across the nation, upon communities wracked by unemployment and deprivation.
The American Gaming Association trumpets the benefits of welcoming a casino into your neighborhood:
Gaming industry employment has brought significant benefits to employees beyond wages, including health insurance, job skills and training, and access to day care, according to the 1997 Gaming Industry Employee Impact Survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The same survey found that gaming industry employment also benefited local economies by lowering public assistance payouts, increasing sales of homes, cars and major
appliances, and increasing charitable giving and volunteerism.
Keep in mind that the association’s replacement of the word “gambling” with the word “gaming” is itself an attempt to make their product more palatable for the voters they ask to invite them into their communities. “Gaming” sounds more innocent than “gambling,” and at a time when gamer culture is in the ascendant, it fudges the distinction between playing, say, Dungeons and Dragons with friends on the weekend and going to a casino 4 times a week to play the slots and drink at the bar alone.
And that’s the thing: The industry is fully aware that, for some, gambling becomes an addictive and destructive behavior: “Although the vast majority of Americans are able to gamble responsibly, a small percentage of people – approximately 1 percent of the adult population – cannot.” So they’re committed to “educating the public about the odds of games and making responsible decisions about when and how to gamble.”
If anyone has seen a highway billboard or cable TV ad educating the public about the odds of winning at various casino games, please let me know.
Prior research has demonstrated a link between casinos and bankruptcy, substance abuse and other social ills. Despite the industry’s protestations, it seems pretty clear that problem gamblers — those for whom gambling is truly addictive — account for at least a third of casino revenues, even if they comprise a small percentage of the gambling population. Anecdotally, I have often passed the Ho-Chunk Nation casino just outside of Madison on the interstate, and whether it’s Monday morning or Saturday evening, the parking lot is always full. I can only speculate as to how many jobs at nearby movie theaters, restaurants, and bars have been lost, not gained, since this casino opened and monopolized much of the area’s food and entertainment industry.
Casinos are a cheap form of job creation, a false hope for desperate communities. Take Springfield, Massachusetts, for example. This former industrial city has been struggling for decades, and MGM Resorts’s project to build a casino there promises to create thousands of jobs and turn the city’s fortunes around. Never mind that the city has a beautiful riverfront location, set amidst rolling green hills and not far from mountains that flatter states can only envy. Never mind that Springfield is situated within easy reach of Boston and New York — two very wealthy cities of global stature — and a natural center for tourists from those places to stop on their way to ski cabins or classical music festivals. But the city, according to the gambling industry, just needs jobs for jobs’ sake — their jobs specifically. Social consequences be damned.
When Bernie Sanders spoke at a campaign rally on July 1st, he ended his speech with a plea: “Please think big, not small.” Trusting in casino gambling to save struggling communities is a terribly kind of small thinking. We can do better.