As more states back casinos, inequality rises

A new study on gambling points to the expansion of casinos as a contributor to social and income inequality. They also perpetuate the notion of chance as a guiding force in life.

AP Photo
Seniors play slot machines at a new casino in Farmington, Pa.

What once happened only in Vegas – casino gambling – is clearly no longer staying in Vegas. Since 1990, nearly half of American states have allowed casinos to open. And the trend keeps feeding itself. More states are now competing to lure gamblers from neighboring states and to rake in big revenues from casino profits.

People in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states can now easily drive to a casino. New York may soon join Massachusetts in jumping on the trend. But a visitor to a casino won’t find the average American there. Casinos draw a disproportionate number of low-income workers, retirees, minorities, and disabled people, according to a new report by the nonprofit Institute for American Values.

And because almost all gamblers lose more than they win, and because today’s slot machines are designed to keep people playing, these states have become co-conspirators in today’s economic and social inequality.

“State sponsorship of casinos is a policy contributing to patterns of inequality in America,” according to the report, which was endorsed by 33 scholars and based on numerous studies in the United States and elsewhere.

Atlantic City’s high unemployment rate in 1978 – the excuse to open casinos there at the time – is still nearly the same. Casinos cannibalize surrounding businesses. They increase the number of compulsive gamblers within 50 miles of them. A study by Baylor University economist Earl Grinols found gambling creates $3 in social costs for every $1 it generates. The very term “gambling” has become so associated with problems that the industry tries to persuade journalists and others to use the word “gaming.”

The report points out that the leading funder of gambling research is the gambling industry, which only skews how state officials weigh the long-term disadvantages of casinos and other forms of gambling. The industry also tries to convince states that negative effects can be contained and managed, like a regulated brothel on the far side of town.

Independent research on gambling is rare in the US. Other countries, such as Britain and Australia, are far ahead in tracking gambling’s effects. Various studies, for example, show that 35 to 50 percent of casino revenues come from habitual or pathological gamblers, many of whom ruin their lives or the lives of loved ones. Do states really want to be a party to that? And pick up the social costs?

“Casinos are now popping up across the nation, near a shopping mall or a river dock near you, with the full support and sponsorship of the very state governments that only yesterday had outlawed them,” says the report.

In their rush to sponsor casinos, states rarely do enough homework or ask the right questions. The evidence for casinos adding to inequality is becoming clearer. But the report also asks if states can answer this important ethical question: Do casinos help erode the idea – one that is essential to democracy and a market economy – “that what happens to us depends more on what we do than on whether we are lucky?”

Humanity’s progress was not accomplished through a belief in chance. History is made by smart thinking, not dumb luck. States that give a nod to casinos are heading for the wrong side of history.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to As more states back casinos, inequality rises
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today