New Hampshire rejects casinos

March 14, 2014 11:14 am

The casino industry almost always gets its way in state capitals - once the lobbyists and campaign contributions roll in. But a majority of House members in New Hampshire voted down a plan yesterday to legalize casinos in the Granite state.

The 173-144 vote against adding one casino in New Hampshire was rebuke for Gov. Maggie Hassan, the main backer of more gambling. Other proposals to allow six slots parlors were also rejected.

It would be nice to say the vote signals that the tide is turning against casinos, which have failed to deliver on many of the promises in other states. But it is more likely the vote is a testament to the truly democratic way New Hampshire’s House is structured. The members are only paid $100 a year and many are retirees. Unlike other states, New Hampshire’s House members are not slick career politicians beholden to special interests.

Most important, the House members understand that a public policy built around inducing residents to gamble away their hard-earned money is a bad way to fund the government.

Delaware props up faltering casinos

March 14, 2014 9:52 am

Here is a peak at the future for other states that get into the casino game.

Delaware used to generate millions in tax revenue from its three casinos. But competition from surrounding states killed the golden goose.

So now, Delaware lawmakers – who are beholden to the gambling industry - are scrambling for ways to help the casinos make money. Last year, Gov. Jack Markell gave the casinos an $8 million bailout. Then he appointed a panel to come up with other ways to help the casinos. Here is some of what the panel is recommending:

* Eliminate the annual $3 million table games fee paid by the casinos.

* Slash the tax rate the casinos pay on table game revenue from 29.4 percent to 15 percent.

* Split 75 percent of the costs for slot machine vendors and fees, rather than have the casinos continue to pay the full amount.

The moves are expected to cost the state $20 million. What other businesses could get such concession from the government once profits dropped? Only when you give large enough campaign contributions will lawmakers do what you want.

The concessions underscore what other states face once their casino revenues drop – as in happening in many states now that the gambling market has become saturated. Once states get hooked on gambling, the lawmakers are forced to do whatever it takes to help prop up the casinos. Just goes to show that the House always wins.

As for online gambling, there are several sites that offer no deposit bonus codes for gambling players.  With the various resources available it is possible to play for free without having to deposit.

Ohio’s $1 billion casino shortfall

March 12, 2014 9:22 am

In 2009, Ohio residents were told the four proposed casinos would generate $1.9 billion in annual tax revenue for the state. The figure helped convince slightly more than half of the state’s residents to approve a referendum legalizing casinos.

But after the first full year of operation for all four casinos, the actual revenue was $839 million, according to this report. Turns out the state’s projection was off by $1 billion. To quote Texas Gov. Rick Perry: “Oops.”

Of course, the $839 million figure does not take into account any of the social and economic costs that also come with casinos. Nor, does the figure consider the drop in spending at area businesses. After all, not only are the revenue figures well below the projection, the Ohio casinos are not generating much new spending. That’s because casinos divert spending that would have gone to buy cars, clothes, food and other goods and services in the state.

But since the casinos are taxed at a higher rate, the state pockets more tax revenue. Usually casinos experience solid growth at first, but then revenue figures level off and begin to drop. Ohio’s weak start does not bode well since the numbers came in low and are likely to keep dropping in future years. Ohio’s revenue problem underscores a broader industry concern: so many other states have legalized casinos recently the market is getting saturated. (Shocked – just shocked – that gamblers are not flocking to the casino in a former department store in downtown Cleveland.)

The casino shortfall in Ohio should serve as a cautionary tale for other states, like Florida and New Hampshire, considering whether to legalize casinos. The casino hype rarely lives up to the reality.

Casinos prey on seniors

February 23, 2014 8:36 am

The fastest group of gamblers are seniors, one study shows. The aging population and growth in casinos in states across the country is a particularly toxic combination. Seniors have time. Many seniors have money to spend or are on fixed incomes and need cash to pay bills. Both options appeal to casino operators as this piece details.

The casinos target and market to seniors. The casinos cater to seniors and help them pass their days with free rides, cheap meals and drinks.

The upshot is a growing population of elderly who are hooked on gambling, as Amy Ziettlow details in her new report, “Seniors in Casino Land: Tough Luck for Older Americans.” Ziettlow will be speaking about her report this week at Stetson University in Florida.

The Sunshine State is considering whether to legalize commercial casinos. The prospect of more gambling would be particularly harmful in Florida, which has the largest elderly population in the country. Ziettlow details some of those issues in her compelling essay in The Tampa Tribune. Read it here.

A Dirty Secret: Suicides at casinos

February 8, 2014 4:07 pm

A 39-year-old man jumped to his death at Genting’s slots casino in Queens, N.Y., the New York Post reported.

Sadly, suicides related to a gambling problem are not unusual. But the Post story claims – emphasis on claims – that the gambler was on a winning streak. “He was not in the hole,” the source told the tabloid newspaper. “Actually, he was up.”

First of all, it defies logic that a person would go on a winning streak and then jump 30 feet to their death in the middle of the casino. But even if true, the fact that casino sources felt the need to make clear that the gambler was “up” underscores the reality that gambling addiction can cause people to kill themselves. The reporting in this incident also underscores how the casinos and police often conspire to soften or even cover up suicides at casinos. (Getting assigned to a casino is considered a cushy assignment for police, who get to know workers and gamblers.)

Despite those efforts, there is no denying the link between gambling and suicide. In fact, Las Vegas – the biggest casino outpost in the country – is considered the suicide capital of America. But as more states legalize casinos, more and more gamblers are committing suicide across the country.

Just consider: In Gulfport, Mississippi, suicides skyrocketed 213 percent in the first two years the casino there opened. In Biloxi, suicides increased 1,000 percent in the first four years, according to this report. Indeed, the National Council on Problem Gambling, citing various studies, reports that 20 percent of pathological gamblers attempt suicide — a rate higher than for any other addictive disorder. The New York Times reported way back in 1997 that the rise in gambling matched an increase in suicides.

Read this sad story from a mother whose son had a gambling problem and ultimately killed himself. Here is just a random sampling of other casino-related suicides:

* Earlier this week, a Louisiana police chief shot himself in the head at a casino in Biloxi, Miss.

* In October, a 19-year-old committed suicide by jumping from the parking garage at the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City. (Read more here.)

* In 2013, an Illinois mother of three killed herself after her gambling addiction was exposed.

* In 2013, a woman jumped from the parking garage of a casino in Detroit. The police did not release her name let alone details as to the cause.

* In 2012, a man shot a killed a woman and then killed himself at a Las Vegas casino.

* In 2012, a woman jumped from the parking garage at a casino in Indiana. Again, ploice did not release any details as to the cause.

* In 2011, a 21-year-old Pennsylvania man killed himself by driving his car off the top of the parking garage at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem. (Read more here.)

* In 2009, a man shot a casino worker in Atlantic City and planned to kill himself but was stopped by police. He had a suicide note on him.

* In 2005, a 23-year-old gambler shot himself in the mouth at a casino in Illinois after losing $900 in less than 15 minutes playing blackjack. (Read more here.)

* In 2000, an off-duty police officer who lost more than $15,000 at a casino in Detroit pulled out his service revolver and shot himself in the head. (Read more here.)

* In 1999, a string of three suicides in eight days at casinos in Atlantic City prompted The New York Times to detail how such killings are regular worry at casinos.

Beyond suicides, the stress of gambling losses leads people to smash slot machines in anger as The New York Times detailed here. The slot smashings took place at the same Genting casino in Queens where the gambler committed suicide.

New Hampshire cuts through casino “smooth talk”

February 7, 2014 8:56 am

New Hampshire not only has the best state motto, it also appears to have the most common sense when it comes to casinos.

Of all the states that have wrestled with legalizing casinos, New Hampshire’s elected officials and residents are the most engaged on the issue. They have looked at the costs and benefits of gambling. They have done independent studies that show casinos are a net negative. And they have discussed and debated the issue.

Each time, New Hampshire has rejected the empty promises of casinos. But the casino industry does not take no for an answer, as the Seacoast newspaper detailed here. They keep the lobbyists and campaign contributions coming until they win over enough elected officials.

Indeed, the casino industry has finally found a friend in New Hampshire, in Gov. Maggie Hassan. Gov. Hassan is leading the charge to legalize one casino in New Hampshire. But New Hampshire remains skeptical. Conservative and liberal newspapers across the Granite State have consistently dismantled the bogus claims made about casino benefits.

For example, The Union Leader understands that casinos are not economic development engines, but instead siphon money from the economy. The Concord Monitor cut through the rhetoric in an excellent editorial that warns residents and lawmakers not to fall for the “smooth talk” of casinos.

“New Hampshire shouldn’t finance its government by preying on people who lose their shirts at a casino,” The Monitor wrote. “Residents shouldn’t trust lawmakers to support gambling addiction services – New Hampshire’s track record on helping those addicted to drugs, alcohol and tobacco is abysmal; there’s no reason to believe this would be different. Existing businesses shouldn’t be victimized by the state’s grab for money.

“As parents all over New Hampshire tell their kids every day: Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right.”

The last line is a dig at the other states, especially neighboring Massachusetts, that are rushing over the casino cliff. New Hampshire is surrounded by states that are pushing more and more gambling on residents. If New Hampshire holds out, history will show it was the state that was able to keep its head while others were falling for casinos.

Mickey Mouse .vs Sheldon Adelson

February 6, 2014 11:19 am

Here is a heavyweight fight worth watching.

In the effort to legalize casinos in Florida, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and other casino operators have hired more than 100 lobbyists to influence lawmakers in Tallahassee. On the other side of the fight is the Walt Disney Co., which opposes casinos in the Sunshine State.

The Boston Globe reports the army of lobbyists and campaign contributions are pouring into Florida. The big spending is a sign of the high stakes in Florida. It also underscores how the gambling industry drives and influences public policy when it comes to casinos. It is not as if there is a grassroots push by residents begging their elected officials for more places to gamble.

Lobbyists for casino operators say an expansion will bring jobs and tourists and boost the economy, according to The Globe. Disney believes gambling would hurt the state and undermine the family-friendly theme it has tried to build over the years.

‘‘The massive expansion of gambling that would come from legalizing mega-casinos would be a bad bet for Florida’s taxpayers, tourism brand and existing businesses,’’ Andrea Finger, a Disney spokeswoman, told The Globe.

Here is my recent op-ed in The Tampa Bay Times on the casino issue in Florida.

Florida casinos: Wait ’til next year?

January 27, 2014 9:47 am

It turns out, election-year politics may force Florida lawmakers to delay voting on any major gambling bills until 2015, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Gov. Rick Scott is up for re-election and apparently does not want to get bogged down in a controversial debate about gambling. Lawmakers in Tallahassee are wrestling with a bunch of thorny issues surrounding gambling, including whether to legalize slot machines at racetracks; allow major commercial casino resorts; or renew a gambling pact with an Indian tribe.

Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, told The Times a modest bill that tightens loopholes may be all that gets passed this year, while the bigger gambling issues wait another year. “If an election year has any influence, it could influence the magnitude of what’s undertaken,” Richter told the paper.

As is often the case, lawmakers prefer to work out gambling deals in the backroom so as not to cause much public attention or media scrutiny until it is too late. (See Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York for recent examples of where gambling was legalized with little public debate.) Not to mention, lawmakers often prefer to use the election year to raise more money from gambling interests and then return the favors later.

Gov. Scott knows gambling is a controversial topic that does not have wide public support. So rather than risk upsetting voters, it appears he will follow the advice of Scarlet O’Hara, who famously said at the end of “Gone With The Wind”: “Tomorrow is another day.”

Casino bets are off

January 22, 2014 3:43 pm

Has the casino industry hit its peak?

Gambling revenues are down in a number of states, raising questions as to whether the market has become saturated. It also raises questions for states like Florida that are considering legalizing casinos: Are they too late to the gambling game?

Before making a big bet on casinos, policy makers should take a look at Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Louisiana to name just a few states where casinos revenues are falling.

In Detroit, casino revenues dropped 4.7 percent last year in part because of increased competition from Ohio. The drop in revenue leaves even less money to fund operations in the bankrupt city.

In Indiana, casino tax revenues plunged 15 percent over the past six months. Overall, revenues in Indiana hit an eight-year low. In Ohio, casino-tax revenue dropped for the second-straight quarter leaving some to wonder if gambling has already peaked in a state where the casinos just opened two years ago. In Wisconsin, the drop in casino revenue there prompted some to say the market is saturated.

In Pennsylvania, casino revenues dropped 1.4 percent in 2013, marking the first drop since gambling play began in 2006. In Louisiana, casino revenues were down 4.4 percent in December, including a 16 percent drop in New Orleans. In Connecticut, revenues from two Indian casinos dropped 15 percent and 8 percent respectively in December. Officials there expect gambling revenues to keep dropping as competition increases, leaving the state scrambling for new sources of revenue.

In Delaware, casinos revenues dropped 5.5 percent in one year, thanks to increased competition mainly from Maryland. The Delaware casinos pushed for lower taxes but got a bailout instead from Gov. Jack Markell. The falling revenues prompted Governing Magazine to wonder if casinos are still a safe bet. Likewise, USA Today recently asked if the country has too many casinos.

Then of course there is Atlantic City, where gambling revenues are down 45 percent since 2006. Last year, revenues dipped below $3 billion for the first time in 22 years. The slide in Atlantic City shows no signs of slowing down. One casino recently closed and the fancy new Revel casino filed for bankruptcy less than a year after opening.

Analysts say the opening of each new casino in some markets essentially cannibalizes business from each other. “It’s close to the saturation point,” Alex Burnazhny, director in Fitch Rating’s Gaming, Lodging & Leisure group, told Bloomberg News. “It’s almost a zero-sum game whenever a new casino opens.”

Clyde W. Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, told the Press of Atlantic City the saturation will only intensify once casinos in New York and Massachusetts open. “I believe the level of competition will continue to escalate, because at this point, table games and slots are just like a commodity — like copper and aluminum,” he said.

In Illinois, Clark County Commissioner John Detrick said the casino funds are an unreliable source of funding..”We’re glad to get it,” he said. “But casino money is an unknown and can go down.”

However, not all of the news is bad for the casino industry. The CEOs at two nonprofit casinos in Iowa were each paid more than $650,000 last year, the Des Moines Register reported. Revenues at the casino in Dubuque are down 20 percent in the past five fiscal years, but the CEO’s pay increased 38 percent, the paper reported.

Just goes to show the house wins even when it loses.

Genting’s shifting casino plan in Florida

January 20, 2014 9:03 am

Remember when casino giant Genting claimed it was going to build an elaborate multi-billion dollar resort in Miami? Now, it turns out the Malaysian-based operator will settle for a bare-bones slots barn.

Talk about showing your cards. It seems Genting will say and do whatever it takes to bring more gambling to Florida. That is really what the casino debate is all about.

Recall in 2012 how Florida lawmakers rejected Genting’s effort to build a destination casino resort in Miami. That came after Genting hired an army of influential lobbyists and spent more than $1 million pushing to legalize casinos in the Sunshine State.

Now, Genting has shifted gears and is pushing a plan to team up with a racetrack operator to build a slots-only facility in South Florida. So much for the glamorous tourist resort. Genting is now targeting local and repeat slots gamblers.

The new plan will add nothing to the economy and do little to attract tourists. Instead, Genting wants to just bleed the local gamblers with a giant slots barn.

The Florida plan sounds a lot like the Genting slots barn at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, New York. That facility rakes in nearly $2 million a day and is one of the most profitable gambling halls in the country. The Queens facility does not attract tourists and instead caters to mostly local gamblers.

New York Times columnist Michael Powell captured the scene in Queens when he described Genting’s Resorts World as resembling an “airport departure lounge mated with a pinball machine.” The Times’ Clyde Haberman also interviewed gamblers at the Genting slots hall and found not many were there for fun or looked anything like James Bond. Expect the same scene in Florida if Genting gets its way.

Genting was behind the effort to legalize casinos in New York. Genting’s influence was on display in New York. As a candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo never even discussed casinos. But less than a year into his term he began pushing the idea – thanks to some help and money from Genting.

Now that casinos are legalized in New York, Genting is showing its true colors. After touting how casinos will bring jobs to New York, Genting recently announced nearly 200 layoffs. Likewise, Genting’s initial Florida plan was going to create lots of jobs, but those plans have been scaled back as well.

In Florida, Genting is poised to do whatever it takes to bring more gambling into the state.