On Friday, we told you about an effort underway by a Texas businessman to amend the Arkansas Constitution to allow him to open casinos in seven Arkansas counties. As we said then, Family Council opposes that amendment; casinos add social and economic stress to families and communities. Today, I want to briefly outline 5 ways in which expanding Arkansas’ casinos is a bad idea.
I say “expanding Arkansas’ casinos” because the truth is that Arkansas already has casinos operating at Oaklawn and Southland. Folks can call them “games of skill” all day long; it doesn’t change the fact that you have enormous rooms filled wall-to-wall with machines that—as far as I can tell—look and operate exactly like slot machines.
I even took a trip down to Hot Springs a couple of years ago to see the machines for myself; when I got to the front gate, I asked an attendant, “Where are the casino games?” He replied, “Around the corner to the right.” Oaklawn isn’t making any bones about it; it’s a casino, and that leads me to my first point.
1. Opening casinos in seven counties is only going to encourage Arkansas’ current gambling operations to expand as well.
If this amendment passes, Oaklawn, Southland, the Arkansas Lottery, and this Texas businessman will all be vying for pieces of the gambling pie. Each of them will be trying to stay one step ahead of the other, offering more games and more opportunities for Arkansans to gamble and lose their money. We may start with casinos in seven counties, but don’t count on it to stop there.
2. Problem gambling will increase in Arkansas.
When Dave Thomas opened Wendy’s, a lot of people believed there was simply no way he could compete with McDonald’s and Burger King. Not only was Wendy’s competitive, but Dave Thomas became one of the wealthiest men in America because of one simple fact: Rather than choose to eat at one restaurant or the other, Americans just decided to eat more hamburgers. You can count on a similar trend occurring in Arkansas: If this amendment passes, gambling industries will grow, those who gamble will gamble more, and more Arkansans will become problem gamblers.
3. Millions of dollars will be sapped out of Arkansas’ economy.
People running casinos like to talk about the number of jobs their establishments create. What they don’t talk about is the millions of dollars their operations sap out of the local economy. In Michael Wasserman’s case, he says his casino amendment will create 20,000 jobs in Arkansas (you can see a video of him explaining it here); if that’s the case, his casinos will need to take in literally tens of millions of dollars to cover their overhead and pay their employees. That money has to come from somewhere; more often than not, it comes out of the pockets of people who live and work locally in the community. Even if his casinos do provide the 20,000 jobs he says they will, it will not be enough to offset the millions of dollars of harm his casinos will do economically to Arkansas.
4. Gambling will stunt Arkansas’ economic recovery.
Arkansas has been fortunate enough to fare better than many states—like Florida, Nevada, and California—during these last several months, but the effects of the recession have still been felt here at home. Now, as many people are trying to turn their lives around economically, an amendment is being proposed that would take millions out of the local economies. That’s just not right. What’s more, many of the people who have lost jobs or income in the last few months will be tempted to gamble out of desperation. It’s simply a fact of gambling. The sad part is, for every person who does make the jump from rags to riches at the casino, hundreds will simply sink deeper and deeper into debt supporting a gambling habit. That sounds like the last thing Arkansas’ needs right now.
5. Gambling contributes to family breakdown.
Financial troubles are often cited as the number one cause of divorce. If that’s the case, how can we, in good conscience, legalize and support something that’s only going to contribute to those troubles? Gambling and the debts and addiction often associated with it put financial stress on marriages and on families. Some people may play for “fun” using their disposable income, but many play out of desperation, hoping to hit it big. When that happens, families fall apart and communities struggle with the burden that family breakdown causes.
It’s bad enough that we already have casinos and lotteries operating in Arkansas, and what I’ve outlined above are just 5 of the many reasons to oppose gambling altogether. We’ve seen casinos authorized at Oaklawn and Southland; we’ve seen a state-run lottery run rampant with a constant stream of new games rolled out left and right since its inception. Now Arkansans are being asked to open their communities to even more casinos. What I want to know is how much gambling is going to be enough? Where does it end? Because right now it sure seems like we’re being asked to inundate our state with gambling with no end in sight.