According a news story published by KARK this week, counties in Arkansas and Oklahoma that have casino-style gambling also have above-average percentages of their populations living below the poverty line.
According to KARK, 19% of Arkansans live below the poverty line, but in Garland County–where Oaklawn is located–22% of the population lives below the poverty line, and in Crittenden County–where Southland is located–the number is even higher, at 24%.
Correspondingly, in Oklahoma–where a number of Indian tribes operate casinos–17% of the state’s residents live below the poverty line. In Ottawa and Comanche counties, however, the percentages of residents living in poverty are much higher.
This corresponds with research we did on counties with casinos in Mississippi. We compared Arkansas counties on the west bank of the Mississippi River with Mississippi counties on the east bank of the Mississippi River.
We found that casino gambling does not appears to be effective at lifting communities out of poverty.
Here is a breakdown of our findings:
- Thirty percent of the population of Tunica County, Mississippi, lives in poverty; across the river, in Lee County, Arkansas, 31.5% of the population lives in poverty–virtually a tie, despite the fact Tunica County has nine casinos.
- In Coahoma County, Mississippi, 38% of the population lives in poverty. In neighboring Phillips County, Arkansas, 33.5% lives in poverty. Despite having a casino, Coahoma County has more impoverished residents than Phillips County does.
- In Washington County, Mississippi, 29% of the population lives in poverty. Across the river, in Chicot County, Arkansas 33% of the population lives in poverty.
Here’s the kicker: The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 22.7% of the population of Mississippi lives below the poverty line. That means even a place like Washington County, Mississippi–which has two casinos and the lowest poverty levels of any Mississippi county we reviewed–still has an inordinate number of citizens living below the poverty line.
If casino gambling is an economic boon, where’s the evidence? If gambling bolsters the local economy, provides jobs, generates revenue, and so forth as its proponents claim, why are the poverty levels so high in these counties that have casino-style gambling?
If we’re going to build a better economic future in our communities, casino gambling simply does not seem like the way to do it.
Jerry is the founder and president of Family Council. He began Family Council in 1989 after a successful effort to amend the Arkansas Constitution to prevent the use of public funds for abortions. He and his wife reside in Little Rock. They have four sons.