Addicted to Gambling
It would go too far to suggest that my position on casinos is evolving, but one could fairly say that my balance of the civic and the moral is shifting a bit. Maura Casey explains the following in a piece that calls on “the moral leadership of the country” to do something about the proliferation of casinos and the rapid increase in problem gambling (emphasis in original):
Slot machines have long been programmed to show “near misses” and give gamblers the impression that they came this close to winning, the better to encourage them to keep playing. The machines give back enough money in the process to make gamblers feel like winners even when they are losing. But Harrah’s developed the technique of intervening when reality began to dawn on gamblers—when they lost so much the experience was becoming negative. The company tracked, in real time, customers’ losing streaks and would send “luck ambassadors” to perk them up, give them a token gift—free lunch or some free credits on the machine—to reduce their perception of losing and keep them gambling longer.
In the process, Harrah’s discovered that 90 percent of its profits came from 10 percent of its most avid customers, according to Binkley. This is unsurprising. Many reports suggest that addicts produce a disproportionate share of casino profits. A 1998 Nova Scotia study found that 6 percent of regular gamblers produced 96 percent of gambling revenue, and a whopping 54 percent of the revenue came from just 1 percent of problem gamblers—leading researchers to conclude that, at any one time, half the patrons in front of slot machines in Nova Scotia were problem gamblers. A 1999 study estimated that more than 42 percent of all spending at Indian-reservation casinos came from problem gamblers. A study in Australia concluded that problem gamblers were only 4.7 percent of the population yet generated 42 percent of machine revenues.
I still believe that people ought to be able to gamble, if they like, although I believe states and communities should be able to determine the shape of their society, and I oppose large gambling facilities in Rhode Island. On the other hand, I’m persuaded that regulations ought to favor table games over slot machines, and Rhode Island currently forbids the former while promoting the latter, creating an irrational predicament.
Whatever the case, I remain firmly convinced about the immorality and total lack of civic prudence for the government to take in more revenue from gambling than from any other industry within the state. It makes a junkie out of the regulator.