Casinos take more than they give back - Saturday 12th of March 2005

I don't think casino gambling is evil, just proof positive that there really is a sucker born every minute.


In the past few weeks, we've been writing about casinos and whether they'll come to Beloit and Rockford. Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, has made gambling expansion in Illinois a top priority. Mayor Doug Scott also is keen on a casino, seeing it as a way to pump $7 million to $10 million a year into city coffers. Both have been fighting a Beloit casino project that, if built, would dwarf anything that might happen in Rockford.


Lost in the discussion have been the voices of those who warn that gambling expansion harms society. Last week, a Rockford anti-gambling coalition made up of conservatives from Concerned Citizens for America and liberals from Rockford Urban Ministries brought a gambling-research professor to town.


He's Earl Grinols, a professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and since 1990, he's studied the effects of casino gambling on people and communities. He hasn't taken a dime from either side. Thursday, Grinols gave a lecture at Second Congregational Church.


AS WE TRUNDLE merrily down Casino Road, it might be wise to make a rest stop and consider the results of Grinols' research:


About three-fourths of gamblers who go to casinos in Illinois live within a 35-mile radius of the casino. Any tax money that Rockford will get from these gamblers will be more than offset by the fact that they will have less money to spend on other taxable goods and services here.


Slot machines make up 80 percent of a casino's revenue; 60 percent of the slots revenue comes from pathological gamblers.


Each pathological gambler racks up costs to society -- you and me -- of $10,330.


Casinos don't help nearby restaurants and nightclubs for the simple reason that the casino tries to keep people inside until they're broke. Forty-two percent of counties that brought in casino gambling lost jobs overall.


Politicians are reluctant to challenge the gambling industry because it spends $100 million a year lobbying them. That's more than General Motors, AT&T and Boeing spend combined. When a South Carolina governor banned slot machines, the gambling forces spent $12 million to ensure his defeat. David Beasley is now an ex-governor.


FOR EVERY $46 of local benefit from casino gambling, the social cost is $130. "Having casino gambling in the economy is like suffering an additional recession every seven to eight years. It's not the end of the world, but why suffer that much damage when you don't have to?" Grinols asked.


Gambling supporters say casinos don't raise crime rates. But Grinols' research indicates a different reality. Crime has been going down nationwide for more than a decade, but in counties where casinos have located, crime has gone down less.


"In a county of 100,000 adults, the introduction of Class III (casino) gambling would create additional social costs of $14.3 million annually and social benefits of $4.6 million," he said. Yes, it will create jobs, but "gambling would have to increase the total number of jobs in the county by more than 12,933 to improve the well-being of residents, an unlikely outcome."


I'm still ambivalent about gambling. Do it if you're feelin' lucky. But Grinols' research is solid, and his conclusions are hard to refute. I thought his work deserved some ink.

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