This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
One of the most irresponsible ideas kicking around the 2012 Legislature is the Republican proposal to pack local card rooms across the state with thousands of slot machines.
What Washington really needs is less casino gambling, not more.
A new Washington State University survey provides a timely reality check for those who think commercial gaming is a harmless industry that promises a free lunch to needy governments.
Commissioned by the state Gambling Commission, the scientifically designed survey suggested that:
• About 88 percent of Washington’s population doesn’t want to see gambling expanded in the state. This helps explain why ballot initiatives to legalize more slot machines get consistently defeated.
• Nearly 60 percent of the population is concerned – for good reason – that some gamblers commit crimes to get betting money.
• Six percent of the respondents said they were concerned about their own gambling habits. Given the embarrassment involved in such an admission, that number likely understates the problem considerably.
• A particularly disturbing finding: Rising numbers of Washingtonians appear to believe that gambling is “a way to make money.” The young and the poor are especially vulnerable to this costly delusion.
• More than a quarter of Washingtonians believe they know someone with a gambling problem. “Of those,” reported WSU, “22 percent said that they believed the person had committed a crime as a result of their gambling problem.”
The concerns about crime are not misplaced. As casino gambling proliferated in the United States through the 1990s and 2000s, many researchers investigated its social impacts.
Studies not connected to the industry found that crime and other social problems – including crushing personal debt and suicide – were frequently correlated with casino gambling. Compulsive gamblers have a much higher arrest rate than other Americans.
One of the broadest studies, published by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006, concluded that roughly 8 percent of the crime in “casino counties” was attributable to the casinos.
Slot machines are far and away the most popular casino games, in Washington and elsewhere; they’re at the heart of the country’s epidemic of problem gambling. And some lawmakers think it’s a good idea to have more of them?
The thousands of slots now operating in Indian casinos are plague enough. But at least the tribal establishments are relatively few and far between; most Washingtonians have to drive some distance to get to them. Inconvenience has a dampening effect on impulsive gambling.
The new WSU report should remind Washington’s political leaders that casino gambling is still a political loser. Nor is it a free lunch, or a cheap lunch. It’s more like a lunch with mayonnaise left in the hot sun: Expect food poisoning.