Is The Golden Egg Toxic?
Robert Steele, author of a novel entitled The Curse: Big Time Gambling’s Seduction of a Small New England Town thinks so. He told Y’s Men of Westport-Weston today that casino gambling has grown from a cottage industry in two states to “America’s new national past time,” a “$63 billion industry” including over 1,000 casinos in 39 states – about half are Indian tribe ventures, the remainder are commercially owned.
But one of increasingly dubious value to the casinos themselves, the players and to the states that have become increasingly dependent on them as revenue sources.
Steele is a retired congressman and former CIA agent whose interest in casino gambling was piqued by living at the edge of the Mashnatucket Pequot reservation for two decades.
Connecticut’s gambling history was jump started in 1975 when an activist Indian Affairs attorney worked Connecticut’s political process to get a group of people with Pequot blood, but that did not meet the definition of an Indian tribe declared one.
From there the Mashnatucket Pequots and the Mohegans started working Washington’s process. Under the aegis of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a bit of politicking brought the tribes under that law and made both eligible to establish casinos.
Foxwoods opened in 1992, the Mohegan Sun four years later.
Steele stated that after a number of years during which they raked in ever increasing mounds of cash, over-expansion (and a weak economy) is capping profitability. They enjoy fewer out of state visitors and so have become more dependent on fewer addicts living within an ever tightening radius of each.
On one side, projected benefits to the local communities seem to be mirages – the jobs are low paying, most economic activity is confined to the casinos themselves, and employees coming from outside the area crowd into nearby housing and increase the school population with no offsetting property tax gains.
Meanwhile, gambling’s opponents identify four problems, Steele said. It is addictive, particularly slot machines, which provide 75 percent of casino revenues, and which are now “engineered to create an addiction.” Gambling impacts state budgets, as states increasingly become the casinos’ “partners.”
Gambling is deemed a regressive tax because poorer people tend to be the more frequent players. And casinos lose their impact as tourist attractions once more than 50 percent of their visitors come from the local area.
So if competition and saturation have not yet turned the golden egg toxic, it’s tough now to see it as a beautifully dyed Easter egg.
Will things improve for casinos, their players and states who rely on their revenues?
Only time will tell.