The casino industry and its addicted enabler — a.k.a. your elected Pennsylvania representatives — never ceases in their efforts to bring more gambling options to every corner of the Commonwealth.
In the latest move, Penn National Gaming Inc. plans to open a so-called “mini casino” (86,000 square feet on 36 acres) in Berks County on the edge of Amish Country. Most of the several hundred residents who attended a recent hearing by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board oppose the plan, citing the many social ills that come with gambling.
Penn National claims the Berks County casino will be an “economic engine.” That may be true if the engine is the state and local tax coffers, which tax slot revenues in Pennsylvania at 54 percent.
Unlike Las Vegas, which at least has diversified its economy and attracts tourists and conventions, Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos cater mainly to local low rollers and repeat gamblers who frequent area casinos up to 200 times a year. Without tourists to bring in new spending, the convenience casinos depend on locals to survive.
Indeed, Pennsylvania’s casino model is designed to maximize revenues and limit competition. (The proposed Penn National casino is about 400 yards past the 25-mile exclusion zone for the casino in King of Prussia.)
But there is little regard for the impact on individuals. This is a mistake as MIT researcher Natasha Schull found that modern slot machines are designed to addict gamblers and get them to “play to extinction.” Studies have found that problem gamblers contribute 30 to 60 percent of slot revenues. As such, casinos need problem gamblers.
At best, casinos shift spending away from other businesses, such as restaurants, movie theaters, and live entertainment venues. At worst, casinos enable gambling addicts and lead to more inequality and social harm, including crime, bankruptcy, suicide, and a negative impact on home prices. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that having a casino within 50 miles of your home doubles one’s likelihood to become a problem gambler.
Despite the many downsides that come with casinos, state lawmakers continue to legalize new ways to gamble. Each expansion is focused on maximizing revenues with little regard for the negative impact on local communities.