How to Study Permanently Moving Us Gambling Industry
Others, however, tell a different tale-of lives and families devastated by problem gambling, of walled-off oases of prosperity surrounded by blighted communities, of a massive transfer of money from the poor to the well-off, of a Puritan work ethic giving way to a pursuit of easy money.
Which of these images is true? If elements of both exist, how does one weigh them? Assuming an assessment is even possible, what should be done?
These are obvious questions, but few answers suggest themselves as readily, at least not to all observers. Certainties may abound for the respective partisans; but the ongoing public debate is evidence that these viewpoints have not yet settled the matter. It was for this reason that the NGISC was created and given a mandate to investigate and report on the impact of gambling on America. The task set by Congress¾one which the Commissioners confirmed in their own deliberations¾was not to shoulder the impossible burden of resolving all disputes, but instead to provide far greater clarity regarding what is really happening in our country, in service of the informed public debate that is a prerequisite for decisionmaking in a democratic society.
A Moving Target
Gambling is an ephemeral subject, the study of it is frustrated by the apparently solid repeatedly slipping away. A good starting point is a recognition that the gambling “industry” is far from monolithic. Instead, it is composed of relatively discrete segments: Casinos (commercial and tribal), state-run lotteries, parimutuel wagering, sports wagering, charitable gambling, Internet gambling, stand-alone electronic gambling devices (EGD’s) (such as video poker and video keno), and so forth. Each form of gambling can, in turn, be divided or aggregated into a variety of other groupings. For example, pari-mutuel wagering includes the subgroups of horse racing, dog racing, and jai alai. In addition, the terms “convenience gambling” and “retail gambling” have often been used to describe stand-alone slot machines, video keno, video poker, and other EGD’s that have proliferated in bars, truck stops, convenience stores, and a variety of other locations across several states. This term may also be applied to many lottery games. (These groupings will be discussed in greater detail later in this report.) Each group has its own distinct set of issues, communities of interests, and balance sheets of assets and liabilities. For example, lotteries capture enormous revenues for state governments, ostensibly benefiting the general public in the form of enhanced services, such as education. But critics charge that the states knowingly target their poorest citizens, employing aggressive and misleading advertising to induce these individuals to gamble away their limited means. Casinos spark different discussions. In Atlantic City, the casinos have transformed the Boardwalk and provide employment for thousands of workers. But opponents point to the unredeemed blight only blocks away, made worse by elevated levels of crime that some attribute to the presence of gambling. And so-called convenience gambling may help marginal businesses survive, but at the cost of bringing a poorly regulated form of gambling into the hearts of communities. The Internet brings its own assortment of imponderable issues.
The fortunes of each segment also differ greatly. As a group, the destination casinos have done well. Las Vegas, like America, constantly reinvents itself, with an endless line of new projects. Indian gambling has expanded rapidly, but with enormous disparities in results. Parimutuel racetracks have kept their heads above water in the face of increasing competition for gambling dollars, but often only at the price of mutating into quasi-casinos. Lottery revenues have plateaued, prompting some to expand their inventory to include ever-more controversial sources of income, such as video keno.