Wyomingites for a Better Economy Today and Tomorrow
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 Casinos Prosper by "Strip-Mining" Economy

There has been a fair amount of criticism aimed at Judge Martha Vazquez in granting a stay of her judgment against the casinos, based on the fact that she is shielding activity she describes as illegal from enforcement. This is a valid criticism, but there are other problems, aside from causing disrespect for the law, that continuation of casino operations causes for our state.

Judge Vazquez, in granting a stay on her ruling against the casinos seemed to be saying that the only loss to the state in allowing the casinos to carry on their illegal gambling operations was inconsistency with some abstract, didactic, philosophical notion of law--nothing that could cause actual harm to the state, its citizens, or its commerce. Her ignorance of the facts is in large measure prejudicing her own court proceedings regarding the very real harm that is being done to businesses, individuals and families by the operation of the casinos she is protecting.

Judge Vazquez appears to be guilty of selective indignation, being overly sympathetic for the one group of people for politically correct reasons, but completely ignoring the huge social and economic damage they are causing to their neighbors. It is worthwhile to feel sympathy for employees and their families who are losing their jobs, even though they are involved in illegal activity, but we have large numbers of victims and their families who have lost their homes, their life savings, their jobs, and are tens of thousands of dollars in debt as a result of the casino gambling. We have a record of three individuals in New Mexico who have committed suicide in the last couple of years over casino-related debt. There are hundreds of businesses in the corridor that have suffered slowdowns or closure as a result of the casinos.  Judge Vazquez needs to prioritize her sympathy and have compassion for the real victims under her influence.

If Judge Vazquez had looked into some of the research done around the country on the influence of expanded legalized gambling, she might have come across a study reported on in June, 1996, done by the Better Government Association of Chicago. The BGA is not an anti-gambling organization, but a private watchdog group that investigates government corruption, and has assisted in the arrest of dozens of corrupt government officials.

This BGA casino study, directed by Professors William N. Thompson, and Ricardo C. Gazel, investigated the direct economic impact that five years of river boat casinos has had on Illinois. The overall economic effect of the casinos on the state was negative, but the most interesting research reported on the effect of the communities situated near to the river boats.

The study described the impact of the casinos as "economic strip-mining" of the local communities in Illinois, draining large sums of money out of local businesses and cities. If we proceed to protect casinos in New Mexico, a scholarly study in four or five years will probably find that the Albuquerque corridor has been subject to casino "economic strip-mining."

If Judge Vazquez had done a little more investigation, she would have discovered that in an eight-year study in Iowa by Dr. Rachel Volberg of Gemini Research, it was determined that from 1987 to 1995, the period during which river boat casinos came to Iowa, the rate of Lifetime Probable Problem Gamblers went from 1.7 percent of the adult population to 5.4 percent of the adult population. A 300 percent increase in the rate of compulsive gamblers! She said that this translates to at the very least 80,000 new lifetime probable problem gamblers in Iowa!

Compulsive gamblers aren't people who are having a bad day-they are people whose lives and their families lives are in shambles. These are the people who cause a staggering (in some states 300 percent higher than their non-gambling neighbors) increase in taxes because of their very high welfare rates, suicide rates, spouse and child-abuse rates, and their high rate of criminal activity used in obtaining   gambling funds.

We don't have any thorough prevalence studies to determine the present rate of compulsive gamblers in New Mexico, but if our people are anything like the people of Iowa, we can expect tens of thousands of new compulsive gamblers to be created by the casinos. Can the tragedy of 3,000 lost illegal casino jobs, most of which will be replaced elsewhere within a few weeks or months, be compared with this catastrophe?

By the way, Professor Earl Grinols of the University of Illinois testified to Congress in 1995 that in his casino studies, about 52 percent of casino income came from about 4 percent of the adult population, the compulsive gamblers. The casino industry tries to sell the idea that casinos are about fun and entertainment, but the casino lifeblood is compulsive gamblers.

Most people with above-average intelligence who are aware of these facts, who have no political reason to support the casinos, or who aren't on the casino payroll, are able to see that casinos are a huge threat to our state. The very best solution to this situation would be to let the law take its course and close down the illegal casino gambling. After a few months, most of the employees will have moved back to where they came from (many in other states), or gotten other jobs. The casinos, most of which are totally paid off, would still be able to make a profit on legal gambling activities, although not hundreds of millions per year. Most local businesses would see an economic up-turn, and gross receipts taxes will increase, instead of decreasing as they have while the casinos have been operating. Bankruptcy rates would probably decline, instead of increasing in double digit figures as they have the last year. Most of the new compulsive gamblers, hit with "cold turkey" would wake up from their nightmare and work at putting their lives back together (Research in South Dakota in 1994 indicates this). Politicians will have to look to other sources for gigantic campaign contributions. Many of the lawyers who have received outrageous salaries for giving the casinos bad advice will have to find other clients. New Mexico's unique and diverse culture can be spared from what turned Atlantic City into "a slum by the Sea with casinos."

by Guy C. Clark
N.M. Coalition Against Gambling

Albuquerque Journal, Op Ed Page
August 1, 1996