Sunday, July 11, 2004

Con: Do the math: Casinos hurt us

Something's just not right when the mayor of Cincinnati is spending his time counting license plates in a casino parking lot. Can you imagine the mayor, flashlight in hand, hunched over a bumper on a Friday night, counting the plates from Hamilton County?

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Casino backers disregard any logical opposition these days, claiming only "moralists" oppose gambling for religious reasons. It's a cute trick but a cheap one at best. An atheist with common sense can see gambling is an economic scam. No thinking person should dismiss the dangers of politicians falling in love with the casino illusion. The casino industry is now one of the biggest political contributors in America. Their influence comes at a price.

Casinos trade dollars at best and pay politicians to look the other way. In January 2003, Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn admitted that his state is in big economic trouble because its budget has been linked to unreliable gambling revenues. The income is just too inconsistent, especially in such a highly competitive market. An Ohio news team recently tried to ask the mayor of Detroit if casinos have rescued his city. The best answer he could give was "no comment." A quick trip off the Boardwalk in Atlantic City should help any politician in need of an economic reality check.

Politicians seeking gambling revenues seldom do the real math on the casino business. The illusions of new police cruisers and neon lights tend to dim reality. Casinos cost local jobs because they hurt local businesses. Gamblers lose money every day - money that bought milk, eggs, bread, carpet, Kings Island tickets, and college tuition. Does the mayor know how many kids will never get to college because his casino stole their future? Has he calculated the economic loss of trading an MBA for the title of "pit boss?" Forget the license plates, how many people will not buy new cars this year because of gambling debts?

Local gamblers will populate a Cincinnati casino for a while, but there is no way to drive off the competition. There are no casino monopoly markets left. Neighboring casinos will fight to keep their customers at any cost, driving down profits and reducing payouts to the state and city. When tribal casinos open in Ohio, this desperate race for the bottom will burst the casino illusion and leave state and city budgets gasping for air.

During the last big Mega Millions jackpot, Ohioans were throwing money away at the rate of $100,000 per hour. All those millions left the state for a payout in Massachusetts. Yet we hear no protest from the mayor, the governor or state Reps. Bill Seitz or Tyrone Yates. Their answer is more gambling - teach people how to throw more money away faster and closer to home.

"People are going to gamble," the politicians say, "so let's make the most of it." Now there's an argument looking for a few more brain cells. Is the role of government to pander illusion for profit or to seek the common good?

The economics of legalized gambling cannot be understood by simply counting license plates in a casino parking lot. To learn more about this industry, visit our online library (www.ohioroundtable.org) . We invite everyone to read the statement of Nevada Gov. Guinn found on this site. And we invite the mayor and Reps. Seitz and Yates to join us in a public debate on the realities of casino gambling. Surely there is a parking lot in Cincinnati big enough to hold the crowd.


David Zanotti is the president and chief executive officer of the Ohio Roundtable, a nonprofit public policy organization founded in 1980.

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