As casinos pitch, a boy drowns

February 14, 2013 10:51 am

The front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday contained two unintenional but related stories. The first story breathlessly detailed how Steve Wynn and five other developers pitched the Pennsylvania gambling control board on plans to build a glitzy new casino in Philadelphia. The adjacent story detailed how a 7-year-old boy drowned in a dirty swimming pool in June while the owner of an illegal daycare spent the day gambling at the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia.

SugarHouse is known as one of the casinos where gamblers often leave their kids locked in the car in the parking lot, while they gamble. Now, the tragic death of boy underscores how casinos really are a public health hazard. Many of the gamblers at SugarHouse and other area casinos visit an average of three to five times a week. The casinos not only depend on but cater to repeat and problem gamblers. That is essentially the business model that sustains local convenience casinos like SugarHouse. (As anyone who has visited SugarHouse can see, Wynn’s pitch of tourists flocking to his proposed casino in the same gritty Fishtown neighborhood in Philadelphia is more fantasy than reality.)

So why would the state and city want to add another casino in Philadelphia when it sees the destruction caused by gambling? Easy, money talks. For the most part, casino operators and lawmakers downplay or ignore the social and economic costs that come from casinos. That’s because elected officials are willfully blinded by the tax revenue from casinos. Supporters also claim the casinos result in economic development, but that is not the case

Yes, the gamblers are responsible for their actions. But the sad truth is the casinos are less about fun and entertainment. The casinos actively lure gamblers to the casino with free shuttle service, free gambling vouchers, reward points and free drinks. Some offer free hotel rooms and easy credit to keep tapped out gamblers losing money. The majority of customers are poor, working class, elderly and minority, but everyone pays. The slot machines are designed to keep everyone gambling as long as possible. The industry term is “play to extinction.”

The first duty of elected officials is to protect citizens, not enable businesses that leave residents poorer and lead to the death of innocent children. But you won’t hear about that in any of the pitches for the next glitzy casino in Philadelphia.

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