Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Know when to fold 'em

My state's legislators, weary of having to actually tax the population in order to pay for essential government services, have been enviously eyeing the river of fools flowing south to Connecticut to deposit the silt of Massachusetts money in the casinos of New London County. So now some sorta kinda Indians, whose own land is in the wrong place, want the state to pretend their tribal nation is in the small town of Middleborough so they can build their own casino and dam up the southerly flow within Massachusetts borders.

Naturally, this proposal has divided the town, half of whose residents have visions of property value sugarplums dancing through their heads and half of whom live in Middleborough because they actually love the cows and horses and community. But the money has a way of winning out in these situations.

I've never been to Middleborough, but as a citizen and taxpayer I think this is a really, really lousy idea. Casinos, obviously, create nothing of value, they just siphon the money out of the pockets of addicts, enriching their utterly undeserving owners in return for letting the state skim off a few percent. And in case you think they stimulate economic development, au contraire, they suck the lifeblood out of the surrounding area. If you don't believe me, pay a visit to Atlantic City, which when I was a kid was a really fun place to go.

I remember in my salad days, when state lotteries were just coming in. I thought they were a good idea because the mafia already ran the numbers game, so why shouldn't the money go to the state instead? Wrong. The mob didn't advertise on TV and they didn't take bets at every neighborhood store and tavern. The state lotteries became a tax on the poor. Casinos are even worse. About 2% of American adults are pathological gamblers, but the rate doubles within 50 miles of a casino. (National Gambling Impact Study Commission. Final report. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1999) And what are the consequences of gambling addiction?

An overall decline in financial, social, and legal well-being is often linked to pathologic gambling disorder. Significant complications include depression, debt, divorce (the "3 Ds"), job loss, and incarceration. Rates of past-year job loss are twice as high in patients with pathologic gambling disorder (13.8%) as in nongamblers (5.5%). Rates of having filed for bankruptcy are four times as high in those with the disorder (19.2%) as in nongamblers (4.2%). Similarly, rates of divorce (53.5%) and incarceration (21.4%) are much higher in patients with pathologic gambling disorder than in nongamblers, who have a divorce rate of 18.2% and an incarceration rate of 0.4%. One third of the annual cost of pathologic gambling disorder represents criminal justice expenses.*

And who's going to pay for all this? The same taxpayers who think they're getting a free ride.

*(Leena M. Sumitra, MD and Shannon C. Miller, MD, citing Potenza MN, Fiellin DA, Heninger GR, et al. Gambling: an addictive behavior with health and primary care implications. J Gen Intern Med 2002;17(9):721-32)


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