Virginia’s Casino Bill: What’s the Cost?
This week, Virginia’s Casino Bill passed another barrier. The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee approved the bill, and has now sent it to the Senate Finance Committee for review. The General Laws committee even added two more cities that would be able to establish casinos, making for a grand total of five cities: Bristol, Portsmouth, Danville, Richmond, and Norfolk.
Proponents of the bill claim that the casinos will, “increase jobs and tax revenues in economically distressed areas.” This is indeed a likely outcome of legalizing casinos. However, gambling addiction makes the ethics of it questionable. Nine independent studies suggest that gambling addicts account for 30-60% of gambling revenues. This fact is not a secret in the industry, judging by the advancements casinos have made in making the atmosphere more and more predatory towards addicts.
The brain of a problem gambler works differently than those that are temperate gamblers. For a gambling addict, the times that they almost win registers in the brain the same way as an actual win. With this knowledge, slot machines started having these “near-wins” occur at higher instances than would happen if it were based on luck instead of algorithms. To no surprise, this illusion of being right on the edge of your luck has been associated with longer play times.
Casinos and most other forms of gambling are businesses, meaning that they have a bottom line they need to accomplish. If a majority of their revenues are coming from compulsive gamblers, they are going to cater to that audience whether it is ethical or not. And they do.
Even if compulsive gamblers were once a minority in terms of raking in profit for casinos, they are still more desirable to reel in than a non-compulsive gambler. There’s less need to entice gambling addicts to come and gamble. It’s less difficult to get addicts to stay longer, and spend more money. Essentially, gambling addicts are the cheapest route to gaining the most money. As such, the business plan of a casino is geared towards the gambling addict, not the occasional gambler.
The predatory nature of casinos is growing with time. Data is the easiest way to confirm which customers will be the most profitable. This data is gained through ATMs, and then that information is oftentimes sold to the casino. Reward programs and loyalty cards that casinos offer are also a method of gaining this valuable data (as well as a profit). The reward programs entice gamblers to come to the casino with free drinks or hotels. The loyalty cards allow the casino to see how many games you played, how many drinks you bought, what times you visit, and how long you play. For the patrons that forego these options, data can and often is still collected through cameras hidden in machines.
This brings us back to the ethical nature of Virginia’s SB 1126 casino bill. Casinos are actively trying to locate compulsive gamblers, and have no monetary benefit for doing otherwise. Thus, it could be argued that the increased tax revenue and access to jobs might mean better prospects for some in the community, but only at the detriment of those in the community that have a propensity for addiction.
Lining your pockets at the expense of someone with gambling addiction might be easier if you tell yourself that it is the fault of the individual (the addict), not the business. I would argue that this way of thinking says more about the person saying it than the person they are referencing. Given that America is a very individualistic society, it makes sense that many would blame the individual for their problems. However, many other societies think more collectively. Thus, addicts are seen as the product of a society that has failed them. This collectivist perspective is optimal; we don’t blame people for getting cancer, so why do we blame people for their addiction? Ultimately, it makes sense that casinos will not buy in to this way of thinking, because it would be a litigious nightmare (i.e. gambling addicts or their families suing casinos for their role in the addiction).
Some proponents say that the voluntary exclusion programs that many casinos offer is a good way of combating the predatory nature of casinos. Unfortunately, these programs do not seem to be well-enforced. In fact, gamblers are oftentimes still able to get into the casino and play games – so long as they are losing. Once they win, they are told they are being arrested for trespassing. This also once again puts all of the responsibility on the addict, while conveniently forgetting all of the ways casinos actively try to entice compulsive gamblers to give in to their compulsions. If the casino’s tax revenue is such a selling point of Virginia’s bill, then that would have to mean that casinos are doing a stellar job at enticing these individuals, right?
It seems as though the advocate’s claims of more jobs and tax revenue for impoverished areas might be more about buzz words than truthfulness. New York has had casinos legalized for the past three years. Yet, they have fallen short of the revenue that was expected by 350 million dollars. If New York’s gambling endeavor has any generalizability to Virginia’s, it is safe to say that the idea of the bill may be more alluring than its reality.
Virginia’s casino bill still has a ways to go before it is a part of legislation. More people need to take action to ensure that gambling addicts are not being purposefully taken advantage of. In 2008, when many states were pondering similar bills to Virginia’s, $106 million was raised by gambling opponents compared to the $167 million of proponents. Pair this with more people sympathizing with buzzwords like “economically distressed areas” over gambling addicts (due to the individualistic perspectives people hold), and you have an easy recipe for silencing the very real concerns people have regarding casinos.
Take action now to help current and latent problem gamblers avoid potential havoc in their lives. Call and talk to your local congressmen and tell them your stance on the bill. You can find out who your congressmen are as well as their phone numbers and addresses here.
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of compulsive gambling, please call Williamsville Wellness today. You do not have to face this disease alone.