//Monkeying With Casinos

Monkeying With Casinos

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By Gary Wisenbaker

When Satan preyed on man’s need to have whatever he desired, he used the forbidden fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden as bait.

Think of it as a longing for things bright and shiny characterized by a desire requiring instant gratification.

Instant gratification exists in many forms today but is most prevalent in the gaming industry. Slot machines, roulette wheels, Black Jack tables, and, yes, scratch off tickets, all carry hope for an immediate payoff with minimal investment. Governments are not immune to its allure.

Nevada had a lock on state permitted casino gambling until the late 1970s but now 30 states offer some form of legalized gambling.

A bill winding its way through the current Georgia legislative session would add the state to that list.  A similar effort failed in the 2018 session.

The states that opened themselves up to casino gaming were looking to enhance their state coffers at the expense of tourists visiting these newly constructed venues.  They sought revenue from “destination gambling” rather than “convenience gambling”, or the day-trippers, mostly comprised of locals.

To make this work, however, they needed the more affluent gambler.

Instead, while the gaming industry promised gambling palaces with a high roller ambience, what the states got were slot machine or other computerized game venues: downsized gaming meccas for the locals, often those who can least afford the risk.

And this brings problems.

Counties hosting casinos experience unusually high crime, suicide, divorce, and bankruptcy rates. These social costs are not insignificant.  In Clarke County, Nevada, for example, these costs approach $900 million annually, according to author Sam Skolink.

Moreover, the casino gambling market is reaching, or has reached, saturation as evidenced by soft or declining casino revenues since 2014, according to Moody’s, and the closure of at least six casinos in two states in the same time frame.

The reintroduced bill puts distance between the “destination resorts” approach and instead focuses on education by proposing the required constitutional amendment as a rather innocuous question: Should casino gambling be legalized to “preserve the long-term financial stability of the HOPE scholarship” and other education programs?

Why a state operating with a budget surplus needs additional revenue streams isn’t quite clear. And if gambling is such a sure-fire mechanism to fund HOPE, why aren’t lottery sales doing the job?

An additional benefit they claim is to draw more convention business for the World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta which is described as “a big animal we’ve got to feed every year,” according to one amendment supporter back in 2018.  In other words, rejuvenate downtown Atlanta.

Fine, but that’s not what casinos do.

Research shows that casinos are designed to be “all-absorbing” and are not inclined to let the customer go “until they have exhausted their money”. Casinos, you see, only want to rejuvenate their slot machines.

Budget writers are looking for more revenue streams for the state’s HOPE Scholarship program. A noble cause, certainly, but other mechanisms exist for these purposes without gambling on a saturated, declining revenue gaming industry with high social costs

The legislature will, and probably should, put a “preserve HOPE” constitutional amendment question up for a plebiscite to settle the matter, as one poll shows a growing plurality supporting the concept.

While no Garden of Eden, Georgia is a unique and historic state boasting both large and quaint cities, enjoys an expanding economy, attracts clean industries, and boasts an industrious population.

As State Senator Bruce Thompson observed, “We brag about being the number one place in the country to do business. I’m not sure we want to monkey with that.”