Lansing mayor strikes again

January 31, 2012 11:57 am

The mayor of Lansing, Mich. can’t control his big mouth.

Mayor Virg Bernero made some foul-mouthed comments last week, telling critics of his support for a casino to “screw off.” Now he has upset Indian tribes opposed to the casino in Lansing with some insensitive comments.

During a fund-raiser, the mayor referred to a “bull’s-eye on his back” and said that he was the target of “bows and arrows” for championing the casino proposal. James Nye, a lobbyist for the Nottawaseppi and Saginaw Chippewas, said the mayor singled him out as “Chief Chicken Little.”

The mayor denied the remarks were a racial slur at the Indians but still issued an apology: “My passionate support for Lansing and our casino project may have gotten the better of me, but none of my remarks were directed toward Native Americans, and nothing I said can fairly be construed as a racial slur,” he said. “I make no apologies for using strong language against our opponents … but I do offer my heartfelt and sincere apology to any and all who were offended by my choice of words.”

Heartfelt and sincere, indeed.

U.K. doubles down on casinos

January 31, 2012 10:41 am

The United States isn’t the only country betting big on casinos. Great Britain is poised for a sweeping expansion of casinos there.

Casinos could open in a dozen towns and cities that could generate up to £250m a year in winnings for operators, including several large Las Vegas-style super casinos. Church groups fear the growth could increase the number of problem gamblers and hit poor families. The addiction charity GamCare said the growth underscores the need for more education.

Sounds alot like the U.S., except the British press has a special knack for capturing the vivid scene inside a casino in a shopping center in east London:

It takes a few moments for the eyes and brain to adjust from the light of a late-January afternoon to the flashing lights of 150 slot machines in Aspers casino in the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre, east London. Once they have, the most striking thing about the UK’s largest gambling house is that it really isn’t that big.

Moreover, it doesn’t appear to be inhabited by desperate-looking people, pouring the remainder of their souls into a flashing machine which will only ever let them win enough to keep them coming back. Perhaps mercifully for the early afternoon, it doesn’t seem to be inhabited by that many people at all. Syed Naeem Kazmiu, 18, said he had been told by staff that he is one of the youngest they see at the casino. “I have probably dropped around £2,500 in the last two weeks,” he said. But, he added, “I play for the fun. I put down money when I can afford it and, when I can’t, I don’t.”

That’s what all the gamblers say.

Casinos for kids

January 30, 2012 10:03 am

Are places like Dave & Buster’s and Chuck E. Cheese’s training grounds for future gambling addicts?

An interesting piece here argues that such windowless fun houses are casinos for kids. The doctor writing the piece calls them “casino prep schools.” Here’s a part of his argument, which he says will likely lead to more gambling addicts in the future:

“In casinos for kids, in addition to the games there are drinks and food everywhere you turn: high-sugar and high-fat foods, including huge glasses of sugary beverages, nachos and potato skins in which cheese and bacon swim, sour cream like it was running water, and chicken and buffalo wings as plentiful as kudzu. These foods fuel the brain and body for the high intensity, electronic world of video games (and the few retro toss-the-ball games embedded among the digital delights). These are foods that antecede (and later accompany) the nicotine and alcohol that youth will graduate to further stimulate the reward centers of the brain.

There is also the paper gaming tickets of varying values in casinos for kids. Youth and adult players buy these at a gazebo located at the very center of the well of machines so there is never far to walk to convert paper money for valueless paper that lets you play. The tickets are paper versions of gambling chips, of course. There is a store at the rear where wads of tickets can be exchanged for stuffed toys of every color in the rainbow. The machines are programmed to let some win, some of the time, just like in any casino. But make no mistake: The house always wins.”

Newt’s money man

January 30, 2012 8:18 am

The New York Times weighs in with a profile of Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who is the deep-pocketed funder propping up Newt Gingrich’s GOP presidential bid. 

The story has a great anecdote about Adelson pitching Jordan’s King Abdullah II on a plan to build a casino on Jordan-Israel border to be called the Red Sea Kingdom. Just what the Middle East needs to ease the tension there: a casino. The story also offers some insight into Adelson’s business style:

According to the Times: “The Justice Department is investigating accusations by a former casino executive that Mr. Adelson’s operations in Macao may have violated federal laws banning corrupt payments to foreign officials. Also, a Chinese businessman accused Mr. Adelson of reneging on an agreement to share profits from the Macao project.

“Mr. Adelson also has a reputation for irascibility and has left a trail of angry former business associates. Even his two sons sued him at one point, accusing him of cheating them, though they lost. He filed a libel suit against a Las Vegas newspaper columnist, John L. Smith, who eventually had to declare bankruptcy, and he waged a bitter court battle with a former employee whom he accused of spreading lies about him.”

Meanwhile, The Atlantic has an interesting piece that details the special accomodations being made for Jewish voters in the upcoming Nevada, and how that will create an opportunity for voter mischief.

Newt’s casino pal under investigation

January 27, 2012 4:01 pm

Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who along with his wife has given $10 million to Newt Gingrich’s GOP presidential bid, is under criminal investigation for alleged bribery of foreign officials in Macau, according to a report by ABC News.

The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have been probing Adelson’s dealings in a casino territory in China. The investigation was believed to have been prompted by a separate civil lawsuit by a former executive.

ABC News reported that in that suit, the executive alleges: Adelson ordered him to keep quiet about sensitive issues at the Sands casinos on the Chinese island of Macau, including the casinos’ alleged “involvement with Chinese organized crime groups, known as Triads, connected to the junket business.” The triads — Chinese organized crime syndicates — are allegedly involved in organizing high stakes gambling junkets for wealthy Chinese travelers.

Adelson denies the allegations. But if true, the allegations offer some insights into how a major Las Vegas casino owner operates and into the type of characters Gingrich hangs around. Read previous posts on Adelson and Gingrich here and here.

Bloomberg on casinos: all over the map

January 27, 2012 9:32 am

Mayor Michael Bloomberg should make up his mind as to where he stands with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to legalize commercial casinos in New York.

In September, Bloomberg was critical of the impact of casinos, saying they were “regressive” and “didn’t do much for neighborhoods.” In December, the mayor was supportive of Cuomo’s plan to add casinos and made clear he would stay out of the way as long as New York City got its cut of the gambling revenue. Later, Bloomberg was critical of the casino effort.

To be fair, Bloomberg has long said he is no a fan of gambling. He’s a smart guy who understands that casinos are regressive and lead to increased social ills. Bloomberg also gets that casinos produce little output and do not add to the overall economy.

But his tepid position on Cuomo’s casino plan has been a disappointment. As the mayor of the great city of New York, Bloomberg can and should play a lead role in the gambling debate both in the Empire State and nationally. In fighting the spread of casinos, Bloomberg would earn a place in history alongside the great New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia who crusaded against the onslaught of slot machines, which he called “mechanical pickpockets.”

As it stands, Bloomberg is trying to have it both ways. The mayor is trying to thread an impossible needle by saying he’s against casinos but then going along with Cuomo’s casino plan. That’s a cop out and abdecation of his responsibility to lead the city. More broadly, Bloomberg should make the case that New York – as a world-class city – should not join lesser cities and states in the race to the bottom by allowing a regressive public policy that strips wealth from the very people who can least afford it.

That’s how great mayors lead.

Steel City is now Sin City

January 26, 2012 4:12 pm

Just as Pennsylvania surpassed Atlantic City to become the second largest gambling mecca in the country, police were busting a prostitution ring at the Sands casino in Bethlehem.

What happens in Bethlehem now stays in Bethlehem. Officials tried to downplay the discovery of a prostitution ring. But studies show that where casinos locate there is an increase in crime.

The Sands sits on the site of a former steel plant in Bethlehem. The dichotomy is a perfect example of the broader economic shift in the country that used to make things but now mostly takes or consumes things.  

Gamblers spent $3.02 billion at Pennsylvania’s 10 casinos in 2011, up 21.6 percent from the previous year. That edged out Atlantic City, which reported $2.95 billion in revenues, a 9.5 percent decrease from 2010. Think that money is making a difference inPennsylvania? Well, we all know how those billions streaming into Atlantic City have done little to help that town. 
Pennsylvania officials may be proud about the state’s new No. 2 ranking in gambling revenue. But that is nothing to boast about. That means the state extracted $3 billion in wealth from taxpayers, many of whom can least afford it. Nothing was made or produced in return for that money – unless you consider spin off businesses like the prostitution ring.

Super Bowl preys on gambling addicts

January 26, 2012 9:20 am

For many Americans, gambling on the Super Bowl is as much a part of the day as the nachos, beer and cool commercials. A Super Bowl pool seems like harmless fun. But it is a big problem for many gambling addicts.

Calls to gambling hot lines spike around the time of the Super Bowl, according to this stories here and here. The impact on families can be destructive as this recovering addict in the local ABC News story explains.

“Gambling almost cost me everything that was important to me — my family, my marriage,” said Lee who didn’t want her full name revealed. “It was ugly, and it finally got to the point where I got into some serious trouble through theft from an employer.”

Get ready for more calls to gambling hot lines if New Jersey lawmakers move forward with a proposal to legalize sports betting in Atlantic City. The measure could open the door for sports betting in other states. No doubt many gamble already. But such a move will only make it easier for people to gamble. More is not better as this study on the gambling mentality shows. Plus it is a sucker’s bet.

An endorsement of sports betting by the government sends the message that it is ok to gamble. The marketing that will follow will only lure people to gamble who do not want to deal with a bookie. 

Instead, the government will be your bookie.

The false promise of casinos

January 25, 2012 1:40 pm

Lawmakers in state after state are seeking to legalize casinos as a way to create jobs and balance budgets. But there’s just one problem: casinos are not the answer to a state’s job or budget woes.

The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader reporter John Cheves provided a very thoughtful analysis on the false promise of casinos. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is the latest state leader to push for casinos. He joins lawmakers in Florida, New York and Illinois who are all looking to legalize casinos. 

The newspaper found that states that have casinos are struggling just like states without casinos. According to the analysis: The nearly two dozen states that get revenue from casinos have struggled financially during the past three years, just like everyone else. All of them cut spending; half raised taxes. Some fired thousands of their public workers, including educators and police, and gutted their basic classroom funding.

“Casinos will almost certainly increase your revenue to some extent. But there will be offsets and costs that you also need to consider,” said Alan Mallach, a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia told the paper. “Casino gambling does not create a single new dollar. Every dollar dropped into a slot machine is a dollar not spent on something else. It’s not like you’ve got an auto plant and you’re building cars to be shipped and sold around the world.”

Lansing mayor is clueless

January 25, 2012 11:47 am

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero told critics of his plan to bring a casino to the state capital to “screw off.” Real nice. Way to engage in a civil dialogue, mayor.

Perhaps Bernero’s belittling language stems from the fact that gambling is a bad way to fund government operations. Or maybe he has been spending to much time with low lifes who get rich by luring struggling workers to gamble away their money in casinos.

Regardless, Bernero’s argument for a casino is misguided at best. For starters, the casino job he wants are mostly service industry positions that don’t pay very well. And the tax revenue he wants is not sustainable and will not lead to economic prosperity. See Atlantic City.

Not only that, gambling is a regressive tax that only works if people are losing money. Governments encouraging citizens to lose is no way to grow a dynamic economy. More broadly, any benefits from casinos come at a cost. Studies show there is an increase in social ills, including crime, bankruptcy, divorce and suicide.

What elected official in their right mind would campaign on a promise to increase crime, create more bankruptcy and destroy more families? Maybe Bernero should take some time to consider the full impact of casinos before spouting off such senseless talk.