By Gary Wisenbaker –
When Satan– as a serpent, the most subtle creature in the Garden of Eden– preyed on man’s desire to enjoy whatever was desired, he used the forbidden fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden as bait. Think of it as a longing for things bright and shiny characterized by a desire requiring instant gratification.
Instant gratification exists in many forms today but is most prevalent in the gaming industry. Slot machines, roulette wheels, Black Jack tables and, yes, scratch off tickets, all carry hope for an immediate payoff with minimal investment. And states are not immune to the urge.
Nevada had a lock on state permitted casino gambling until the late 1970s but now 30 states offer some form of legalized gambling.
The states that opened themselves up to casino gaming were looking to enhance their state coffers at the expense of tourists visiting these newly constructed venues. They sought revenue from “destination gambling” rather than “convenience gambling”, or the day-trippers, mostly comprised of locals.
They are finding, however, that try as they might, they’re not attracting the clientele they sought: the more affluent gambler.
Instead, while the gaming industry promised gambling palaces with a high roller ambience, what the states got were slot machine or other computerized game venues: downsized gaming meccas for the locals, often those who can least afford the risk, yet who visit casinos the most. And this brings problems.
Counties hosting casinos experience unusually high crime, suicide, divorce, and bankruptcy rates. These social costs are not insignificant. In Clarke County, Nevada, for example, these costs approach $900 million annually, according to author Sam Skolink.
Moreover, the casino gambling market is reaching, or has reached, saturation as evidenced by soft or declining casino revenues since 2014, according to Moody’s, and the closure of six casinos in two states in the same time frame.
Nonetheless, at the urging of Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, MGM Resorts, and others, Georgia legislators are contemplating a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling (or “destination resorts”) in the state.
Budget writers are looking for more revenue streams for the state’s HOPE Scholarship program as well as help fund rural hospitals. Noble causes, certainly, but other mechanisms exist for these purposes without gambling on a saturated, declining revenue gaming industry with high social costs.
And why a state operating with a budget surplus needs additional revenue streams isn’t quite clear.
An additional benefit they claim is to draw more convention business for the World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta which is described as “a big animal we’ve got to feed every year,” according to one amendment supporter. In other words, rejuvenate downtown Atlanta.
Fine, but that’s not what casinos do.
Research shows that casinos are designed to be “all-absorbing” and are not inclined to let the customer go “until they have exhausted their money”. Casinos, you see, only want to rejuvenate their slot machines.
The legislature will, and probably should, put a “destination resort” constitutional amendment up for a vote in 2018 to settle the matter, as one poll shows a large plurality supporting the concept.
Georgia is no Garden of Eden but it is a unique and historic state boasting both large and quaint cities, beautiful rivers, mountains, seashores, marshes, and piney woods. It enjoys an expanding economy, attracts clean industries, and boasts an industrious population. Why put this at risk?
Georgians may not want a bite out of that apple.
Gary Wisenbaker is a corporate communications and political consultant at Blackstone, LLC. In Valdosta.