Concerns follow gambling developments

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Mon., Jul. 22, 2013
New gambling developments in the state have raised some concerns in northeastern Connecticut. - Contributed Photo

Recent developments concerning the expansion of gambling in Connecticut have some people worried. With talk out of the governor's office that online gambling could become legal if other states make it so, the state is poised to turn to gambling for more revenue. With drastic cuts to state and federal budgets, legislators in Hartford made Keno legal in the 11th hour of budget negotiations. The next day, state legislative leaders proposed legalizing video slot machines at off-track-betting locations.

But it isn't just Connecticut that is counting on gambling to generate new revenues. Springfield, Mass., residents recently approved a plan by MGM to build a casino in their city. The Mashantucket Pequots, who own Foxwoods, and the Mohegans, who own Mohegan Sun, have thrown their names into the hat with proposals to build casinos in Massachusetts. The Pequots want to build in Milford and the Mohegans in Palmer. That state is looking to develop three casinos and open slot machine parlors in the state.

New York has amended its constitution to allow up to seven casinos in that state. Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and other states are looking to create what they expect will be revenue-generating gambling venues.

It has Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group Executive Director Donna Grant anxious. Residents in northeastern Connecticut will be surrounded by gambling venues and the lure of “easy money,” if only they win big, she said. With unemployment, a poor job market for good-paying jobs and a recession that continues to plague so many in the Quiet Corner, she's afraid that temptation will win over the discipline of playing responsibly. Grant has seen first-hand the destruction that problem gambling presents to families in the area.

“The social impact from addictive gambling is huge,” Grant said. “Northeast Connecticut feels the brunt of it more unfairly that the rest of the state because of its proximity to casinos in the area.” That impact can be felt in family, relational and financial instability, she said. It's had an impact on the availability of low-income housing, skyrocketing costs for providing English as a second language courses, and expenses incurred by the stress put on the infrastructure of towns close to the state's casinos.

Norwich is a case in point. City officials estimate casino-related costs to run from $1 to $2.5 million. School administrators identified nearly $2 million in costs associated with establishing English as second language classes for workers drawn to the sites.
The social costs are much harder to determine. Some indicators point to an explosive growth since Foxwoods opened in 1992 and Mohegan Sun in 1996.

The state's outpatient gambling sites have grown from one clinic in 1996 to 17 in 2008. According to economist Earl Grinols, the cost to benefit ratio of introducing gambling is greater than 3 to 1. And Mary Drexler, the executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, estimates the state spends about $1.9 million to address problem gambling. The CCPG, which receives the bulk of its funding from voluntary payments by the casinos, called the legislators' decision to legalize Keno astounding, given the data that shows gambling creates more problems than it solves.

The casinos have given the state treasury more than $6 billion since they opened. Supporters point to the variety of state needs, including social support programs, that the money has provided. They have created more than 2,000 jobs. Unfortunately, slot revenues continue to decline, and future projections show no change in that trend.

With other states vying for customers, operators at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun want to expand their venues to include shopping malls and recreational draws that will turn them into destination spots. And they are increasingly turning to in-state marketing to replace dwindling numbers of out-of-state visitors with the state's own residents.

The state has allowed the tribes to increase their free play allowance to draw in customers, according to author Robert Steele. Steele's recent publication of “The Curse” pits the development of casinos in the state against a fictional backdrop. He feels the odds are stacked increasingly against casino visitors. Slot machines, which are one of the most addictive forms of gambling, are programmed to win for the house. But they are also programmed to give enough near misses and payouts that players are tempted to keep playing. 

“We need to look at the costs when we talk about the revenue we can generate from things like online poker,” Grant said. “We need to be ready to supplement the human service agencies that have to deal with the fallout.”

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