Morality aside, gambling costs outweigh benefits
Published: Sunday, January 19, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2014 at 12:50 p.m.
It's a bad time to be the morality police.
The states of Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana. Gay-marriage bans are being overturned even in conservative states such as Oklahoma and Utah.
David Blackenhorn had been on the front lines of the latter debate, testifying against gay marriage in the legal battle over California's Proposition 8. He made a high-profile conversion in 2013 when he announced in a New York Times column that he no longer opposed gay marriage.
He said it cost him half the funding and board members of his group, the New York-based Institute for American Values. Now he's working to build a gay and straight coalition in support of strengthening marriage, while turning his attention to fighting casinos.
Blackenhorn stopped by The Sun last week to discuss the reasons why it would be a bad idea for Florida to expand gambling. And unlike arguments against gay marriage that are based on moral beliefs and lacking real evidence, there is compelling research showing that the costs of casinos outweigh the benefits.
Baylor University economist Earl Grinols put an exact figure on it. His research found that casinos create about $3 in social costs for every $1 that they generate. Those costs can come in the form of increased crime and social welfare spending, and other problems caused by gambling addictions.
Problem and pathological gamblers account for 35 to 55 percent of casino revenues, according to research cited by Blackenhorn's group.
He has the most contempt for "nasty, predatory" slot machines programmed to slowly bleed users.
"You're playing against a computer that's designed to take your money," he said.
He concedes that casinos generate government revenue and jobs. But he suggested that casinos simply take money that would have been spent in other businesses, calling it "economic strip mining."
A study by the Spectrum Gaming Group released last fall support his claims in relation to Florida. The study found that expanding gambling in Florida, whether on a small or large scale, would only provide a modest benefit to the state's economy.
I've never bought Disney's argument that expanding gambling in Florida would cause irreparable damage to the state's family-friendly image for tourists.
But I am moved by the idea that doing so would only add to problems with income inequality.
As Blackenhorn describes it, governments that authorize and tax casinos essentially are endorsing a regressive tax. Casinos boost government coffers by taking money from lower-wage workers and retirees, easing the need to raise property taxes on more affluent residents.
Given that I support gay marriage and the liberalization of drug laws, it's hard to reconcile those libertarian social positions with opposition to gambling. But as Blackenhorn points out, opposing government-endorsed casinos is different than being fine with someone betting on the Super Bowl or playing poker with friends for money.
You don't have to be the morality police to see that the only real winner in expanding casino gambling is the owners of the casinos.