Wednesday, September 30, 2009

From the, Town of Bedrock...

While delaying a vote would give gaming opponents more time "to gain steam," Barrow said he does not expect that to shape the debate.

"Everybody's polling shows the opposition is down to bedrock and, if anything, support is growing."

-- Casino Drive Stalls,

There he goes again. Prof. Clyde Barrows, gambling industry shill in policy analyst drag, pulling yet another inane quote out of his backside in an on-going effort to spread inevitability and misinformation via the media.

First of all, Clyde, we're not 'gaming' opponents. I know that I, for one, do enjoy the occasional game of baseball or badminton or monopoly. What we do oppose are slots, a predatory form of gambling, disguised as a mostly harmless pastime, that just happens to generate crime, addiction and misery everywhere it goes.

So, Clyde, exactly what polling is it that leads you to believe the gambling 'opposition is down to bedrock'?

And would that be the same polling that relies on the fact that the majority of the public doesn't fully understand the issue?

And how about the poll that indicated that most people would rather live near a nuclear power plant than a casino?

Hey - here's a poll for you - it was taken at the Massachusetts Democratic Convention this summer and ended in that party's resolution to oppose predatory slot machines.

Because Clyde, the more people understand about this issue - like how slot machines work, or should I say, swindle - the more they tend to oppose it.

You know, I'll never forget the first time I witnessed Clyde in action. He prefaced his talk that evening by insisting that while the debate over gambling is passionate, he would not be focusing on anything but THE MONEY.

And that, folks, is the problem. Researchers and blowhards alike count the money coming in, but forget about the costs - mostly because coming up with ways to measure things like the after-effects of crime and addiction and ruined lives proves tricky for a mediocre (or just plain lazy) researcher.

Because there's no button on a calculator to push for a child who doesn't eat dinner when the grocery money goes down the gullet of a slot machine, or for the elderly man who lost the savings he built up over a lifetime after taking some free bus trips to Foxwoods, or for the young woman robbed at gun point, or for the spouse with the black eye and the broken arm.

So, it's easier to just leave that stuff off the balance sheet while pronouncing to the media or a Statehouse subcommittee that it's all good.

Time after time after time, I've read a report that outlines all the benefits of expanded gambling - only to notice that the messy stuff like crime and addiction - the stuff they like to call 'social ills' - hasn't even been factored into to the equation. Or that this is 'beyond the scope' of the report.

And this makes a lot of politicians assume they can just throw a figure out there for regulation and addiction treatment and all will be right with the world. But they can't. Those little ruined lives, those tiny tragedies, they start adding up while the small financial gains from gambling revenue are quickly spent.

And of course, once you let the gambling vampire in the door, he just can't get enough blood. Once the State relies on gambling income, the industry will call the shots. Not you, not me, not anyone who doesn't toe the party line. And that, in this great State, founded on freedom, would be yet another tragedy.

As far as the opposition being down to bedrock, well, you know what bedrock is don't you? It's a rock solid, steadfast foundation. What it's not is a paper sailboat drifting across a muddy puddle of promises and pipe dreams. And it's not a half-assed research report or a misleading quote.

And so Clyde, as one proud denizen of the town of Bedrock, I'll leave you with the immortal words of Pebbles Flintstone - because I think she might have been singing this one just for you:

Mommy told me something
A little kid should know
It's all about the devil
And I've learned to hate him so
She said he causes trouble
When you let him in the room,
He will never ever leave you
If your heart is filled with gloom

So let the sun shine in
Face it with a grin
Smilers never lose
And frowners never win
So let the sun shine in
Face it with a grin
Open up your heart and let the sun shine in

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Survey Says...

Fellow blogger, friend and President of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, Kathleen Norbut would like us all to take this very quick survey.

Go for it! And thanks!


Monday, September 21, 2009

Pulling Back the Curtain

In June the Legislative Committee for Economic Development and Emerging Technologies held a pep rally for the racetrack industry, thinly disguised as an informational hearing on expanded gambling.

I detailed this in my post Six Degrees of Suffolk Downs.

Lately, my friend Ryan has been doing his own hefty share of sifting through the sand, or should I say, digging through the mud, to discover just who's behind those studies that paint a pretty picture of predatory gambling.

I hope you'll check out his enlightening post, Will Beacon Hill Make an Informed Decision? and then, send it on to your favorite legislator urging them to read it too. Because what they don't know, can hurt us.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Slotonomics 101

In a bet there is a fool, and a thief.

In the late 1800's a California mechanic invents the first slot machine. It comes equipped with three wheels, decorated with five symbols each and is intended to entertain the wives and girlfriends of the men at the gaming tables. But it quickly finds a larger audience. The chance of a hitting the jackpot? 1 in 1,000. The payout: 50 cents – paid out in nickels.

Over the years, the symbols on each reel increase, decreasing the odds of someone hitting the jackpot, while increasing the amount of the jackpot itself.

By 1970 the standard slot machine has a reel with 22 symbols - half of which are winning symbols and the other half blanks. The chance of hitting the jackpot is now 1 in 10,648.

But gamblers are interested in even bigger payoffs, so slot machine makers add bigger reels to hold even more symbols, then added more reels.

But these improvements prove unpopular with machine gamblers who know the odds of hitting the jackpot are better on the older machines.

Then, in 1984, Inge Telnaes invents a slot machine powered by a micro chip. The chip, not the reels themselves, now determine the outcome of every spin and it becomes possible to decrease the odds of hitting a jackpot while still having the machine appear to offer much better odds. Essentially, working on the same principle as a pair of loaded dice.

The president of Bally Gaming, among other players in the industry, objects to these new machines, writing to the Nevada State Gaming Board that "It would appear to us that if a mechanical reel on a slot machine possesses four sevens and it is electronically playing as if there were one seven, the player is being visually misled." Nevertheless, in a decision that would change the entire gambling industry, the Board approved the Telnaes machines - and 'virtual' reels become the new industry standard.

Over time, slot machines are adapted to encourage players to play faster, longer, and for larger wagers than ever. Ergonomics, visuals, sounds, buttons instead of levers, credit cards and slot club cards instead of coins, bonus rounds, rapid-fire pay outs, deceptively programmed near-wins, machines engineered to allow the player to play more intensively – and to lose faster. Addiction experts begin to refer to slots as the “crack cocaine” of the gambling industry.

The modern slot machine has now become the industry's cash cow, with 70 - 80% of all casino revenue originating from slot machines - and 60% of that revenue coming from problem and pathological gamblers – making this demographic the industry's best customer.

States without gambling decide to get in on the action – by "recapturing" gambling dollars going out of State.

But costs associated with gambling are difficult to quantify and therefore often not factored into, or are underestimated in cost/benefit studies.

Gambling legislation is passed, in no small part due to ignorance of the product, budgeting and political pressures, influence from lobbyists, improper or inadequate review of the data, artificial urgency, and overstatements of benefits.

While in-state gambling does recapture some revenue and create mostly low-paying jobs, it also creates more addicts. It brings increased crime and social problems which will require State and local intervention. Property values decrease, local businesses, lotteries and charities suffer from limited discretionary dollars. The industry must be regulated. Cost per pathological gambler per year is $11,300. The cost per U.S. household, even for those that do not gamble is $460.

New slot revenue is quickly spent, but now impacts like crime and social problems have become more apparent and costly, as does regulation, requiring a new State bureaucracy with State employees with pensions and health care.

Revenue is somehow not paying for everything it was supposed to.

Then, neighboring states decide to legalize gambling in their own effort to recapture revenue.

Gambling revenue is no longer enough, but by now the State has become dependent on it.

Competition from other States, along with normal dips in the economy assures drop in gambling revenue, but the State has now become both regulator and stakeholder in gambling industry.

So... State sells more casino/slot licenses, repeals smoking ban, lowers the gambling age, allows 24/7 drinks, relaxes previous regulations, gives concessions to investors, opens more gambling venues - all in order to create more problem gamblers – that all-important demographic - which in turn creates more impacts, resulting in less money for the State.

Now State has casinos, slots, another growing bureaucracy, multiple financial and social impacts, not to mention lives ruined, children neglected, businesses hurt, people dead – and STILL NOT ENOUGH REVENUE.

Meanwhile... billionaire casino investors (and the policy analysts who love them) continue to smirk all the way to the bank.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Road Rage

Ok, so there we were, at hour 6 1/2 of what our GPS estimated would be a 9 hour drive from Washington DC back home - making excellent time, despite rain in New Jersey, a detour around the George Washington Bridge and two pit stops for food, fuel and calls of nature - great time, in fact, amazingly only three minutes behind schedule - when it happened.

A slow down.

In Connecticut.


For an hour the time ticked digitally away in front of my face. The music on the radio didn't sound so good anymore. My stomach growled. And I obsessed about all the things I anticipated would be waiting for me when I got home - unpacking the car, racing to the kennel before it closed, listening to the 400 messages on the answering machine, figuring out where that mysterious smell was coming from, cooking dinner from who knows what would be left in the pantry...

Tick. Tick. Tick.

I just wanted to be home.

After another half hour of my life slipped away on the Connecticut coast, I doubled checked that I had the kennel's phone number on my cell.

What was the hold up! It was Sunday afternoon for crying out loud!

We were creeping past the junction of I95 and 395. What's on 395 I wondered?

I got out the map. Oh. Well there you go. Mohegan Sun casino was on 395.

But that's not what did it for me.

It was the sign. As we were passing the 395 exit, there was sign about half the size of a billboard which read,

"There is hope,
Make the call."

This was the same message we saw on bridges all along our road trip up and down the Eastern seaboard. But there was no bridge here. And the sign was much bigger.

It was a 'don't commit suicide' sign. At the end of casino road.

I scrambled to find the camera, hopelessly buried beneath boxes of animal crackers and Ritz Bitz, but the traffic had started moving and so I didn't have time to capture a photo for you. But I did find this picture of a much smaller version on the internet - it's on the Golden Gate Bridge where, apparently, people jump to their deaths all the time.

But who needs a bridge when your legislators are busy snapping on their speedos and swim caps, getting set to dive into the waters of expanded gambling??

Before they take us all along on their nose dive, maybe we should put something up like this at the Statehouse where the big guys can see it every day on their way to cafeteria and the restrooms. Because like the sign says: