By Bertha Lewis, President and Founder of the Black Institute
With the governor and legislature poised to approve a state constitutional amendment next year that would allow for corporate casino gambling throughout the state, some elected officials in Brooklyn have begun to prematurely salivate at the promise of tax revenues, jobs and community revival. Before jumping on this casino bandwagon and forcing the development of a casino complex on what will likely be a vulnerable community, I implore our elected and community leaders to take a hard look at what the real impact casino gambling would have on a battered and dense urban community such as Coney Island as well as other similarly situated communities in Brooklyn.
Let’s be clear and have an honest debate. In the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, now more than ever, we need safe and affordable housing, not slot machines and card games. We should be focused on rebuilding, not roulette. We should be focused on protecting our shoreline, not promoting video poker. Casinos bring gambling addiction, crime, debt, bankruptcy and mortgage foreclosures and affect the most vulnerable in our communities. With this comes extreme stress on families and increases in mental illness, suicide, domestic violence, child abuse and divorce. And at a time of disaster, desperation and continuing economic uncertainty, a casino in Coney Island or in any part of Brooklyn is not the answer.
Several studies have shown that pathological gambling, a medically recognized impulse-control disorder, disproportionately impacts people and communities of color: African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and immigrants. The higher prevalence of gambling addiction among minority groups is clearly tied to where gambling establishments are located and the relationship to lower socioeconomic status. It’s the people with the least amount of discretionary income who spend the most on gambling, and studies have shown that upward of 80 percent of money spent in casinos comes from local residents.
Some of our elected officials would be amenable to gambling in Brooklyn so long as funding is made available for gambling addiction counseling. So we know there is a problem, but we are going to allow a casino to be developed in a vulnerable community anyway and just say, “Throw us a couple of bucks for counseling”? It’s like saying to the tobacco companies that it’s OK to peddle their cigarettes to kids, just as long as they pay for the Nicorette after they have been diagnosed with cancer.
The societal costs of gambling are in excess of $40 billion annually, with crime being the biggest driver of this social price-tag. Crime not only affects individuals and families, but businesses, jobs and the overall economy of a community. Because of the high concentration of cash-carrying individuals, an area with a gambling establishment naturally attracts unsavory individuals looking for increased payoffs for their law-breaking activities. And as addictive gamblers lose control of their lives, they too resort to crime. Atlantic City’s violent crime rate in 2010 was 388 percent higher than the national average, and higher than New Jersey’s average by 530 percent. And it’s not just the customers of casinos that are victims, but the people, families and businesses who reside in the community as well.
And let’s talk about those dream jobs that elected officials believe would help the community. While casinos may initially create a boost in jobs that average $11.25 an hour, the damage to small businesses will negate any gains made in this area. Many existing businesses in Coney Island are under the misimpression that a casino would bring a boon in business to them. What they fail to realize is that that the gambling industry’s business model is to keep their customers exclusively to themselves. By offering free food, drinks and entertainment, they aim to keep their clientele in the casino gambling for as long as possible, thus damaging any chance for outside restaurants, bars and other attractions to benefit. These existing businesses employ many people from the community whose jobs would be lost if a casino were to be built.
Because of the damage caused by hurricane Sandy, some will try and make the argument that a casino is what Coney Island and Brooklyn needs. Our leaders must not attempt to take advantage of a community when it’s down. Our elected officials in Albany and wannabe mayors and borough presidents need to understand that bringing gambling to Brooklyn would only bring more destruction, be a drain on communities and the local economy and cause irreparable harm.
As Kenny Rogers would say, “You got to know when to fold ’em, know when to hold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to RUN.
Take Action: #DontCrapOut
The OpEd above appeared in the December, 2012 New York Amsterdam News.
How about more affordable housing, farmers markets, after school centers, and more preventive health care centers. The lottery is bad enough. If people want to gamble let them go up to Yonkers to the race tracks. Keep gambling out of New York just like you should keep Walmart out of New York.