In what is becoming an annual tradition in Florida, legislators are debating bills that could expand gambling in one or more parts of our state. This year, the feeding frenzy is over ratifying the proposed compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the State of Florida.
The potential big winners: The Seminole Tribe, and the state’s Pari-Mutuel industry.
The losers: Low income Floridians and their communities.
Here’s why: if the compact is approved as it is proposed, the Tribe has the exclusive right to add blackjack, craps and roulette at each of its seven casinos. If the Senate bill passes, pari-mutuels in six counties including Palm Beach, Lee, Brevard, Washington, Hamilton and Gadsden would be applying to install up to 2,000 slot machines in their facilities. They could also cease their racing or live events and essentially become 24-hour-a-day casinos.
The losers in this mega gambling expansion are low-income communities and the black business community and especially the black press—the real voice of Florida’s black communities.
Although the Seminoles have been placing ads in a few black-owned newspapers in support of the compact, such advertising and support by the Seminoles has been rare to non-existent. The same can be said of the pari-mutuel industry! One could wager with good odds that after the compact issue has been resolved, the Seminoles will most likely forget that there are black-owned newspapers serving black communities in their casino regions.
The one thing that the proponents of expanding gambling and slot machine do not want the black community, especially the black press, to know is the disproportionate negative impact that legalized gambling has on low-income individuals. There is much evidence.
A 2013 study on the “Effect on Low-Income Individuals, Families and Communities,” by the Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice in Hawaii found that “legalized gambling…has negative impacts on the entire community, but does even greater harm to those living in poverty.” As to jobs, it stated: “Gambling neither creates high paying jobs nor prevents unemployment… casino gambling is no guarantee for stable employment.”
An article by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead in the New York Times in June of 2014, aptly entitled Gaming the Poor, puts casinos in the same category as payday lending, rent-to-own stores and tax refund anticipation loans when it comes to extracting “high profits from low-income groups.” She writes:
“The casinos’ method is to induce low-income gamblers to make a huge number of small bets per visit, to visit the casino several times per month, or even per week…The key to executing this method is the slot machine.”
And, here in Florida, a study on gambling expansion commissioned by the Legislature in 2013 found that at least 90 percent of the money spent in new gambling facilities in Florida would come from local residents– not tourists!
It is certainly understandable that elected officials from economically depressed areas would seek any lifeline that would help their economically depressed communities.
Unfortunately, and as experience has shown promises of prosperity from gambling are a myth. All too often, rather than add to the economy of a community, casino gambling and slots will suck hard-earned dollars of local residents who can’t afford to lose them. Dollars that would be spent on food, shelter and clothing will instead end up as profits for gambling operators.
Former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham sums it up nicely in his friend of the court brief in the Gretna gambling case now before the Florida Supreme Court. Opposing any expansion of existing gambling without statewide voter approval, he concludes:
“If left unchecked, gambling can inalterably change the very fabric of a community. If unrestrained it can corrupt government, cannibalize business, and deliver a host of social and economic ills that adversely affect not merely a single family or community but an entire region and state.”
Clarence V. McKee is a consultant to No Casinos Inc.