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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

A bad bet

Mayor Tom Henry has had plenty of good ideas. But he had one very bad idea when he flirted with trying to get a casino here as an economic development tool. Casinos do not develop the local economy. In fact, building one is about the fastest way to wreck a local economy:

No one should look to casinos to revive cities, “because that’s not what casinos do.” So explained the project manager for a new Wynn casino rising near Philadelphia. He’s right, but it has taken a surprisingly long time for city governments to acknowledge a fact that was well understood by the 19th-century Americans who suppressed gambling in the decades after the Civil War.

The impact of casinos on neighboring property values is “unambiguously negative,” according to the economists at the National Association of Realtors. Casinos don’t encourage non-gaming businesses to open nearby, because the people who most often visit casinos do not wander out to visit other shops and businesses. A casino is not like a movie theater or a sports stadium, offering a time-limited amusement. It is designed to be an all-absorbing environment that does not release its customers until they have exhausted their money.

The Institute for American Values has gathered the best evidence on the social consequences of casinos. That evidence should worry any responsible city government.

People who live close to a casino are twice as likely to become problem gamblers as people who live more than 10 miles away. As casinos have become more prevalent, so has problem gambling: in some states, the evidence suggests a tripling or even quadrupling of the number of problem gamblers.

States are learning about the negative effects of gambling as well, even if they are reluctant to admit it. Indian's anticipated tax revenues keep falling, and I suspect a large part of that problem is the slow-motion collapse of the faming industry. And because of the increased copetition from every state surrounding us, we're no longer fleecing out-of-state suckers and creating problem gamblers among their poorest residents. The state is now preying mostly on its own citizens.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not against gambling as a personal choice. Nothing I like better than a good poker game, and I'm even one of the suckers who buys a lottery ticket when the jackpoint reaches a certain point. But gambling is a vice. The state is supposed to make its people's lives better, not exploit their character flawss.