The lower-than-projected total of gambling dollars and customers brought in by Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in its first year of operation disappointed just about everybody. (See, e.g., our post on Projections vs. Reality.) So, it is understandable that the increase so far this year in Gross Gambling Revenue [the amount bet minus winnings paid out, called “GGR”] has been broadly welcomed in our community. Nonetheless, Sara Foss at the Schenectady Gazette was correct to voice concerns last Sunday about the significant increase of gambling revenues this year earned from Slots and other Electronic Table Games [ETG]. See “Foss: Increase in casino revenue comes with social costs” (Sunday Gazette, Aug. 5, 2018). That is because the clear consensus of experts and observers is that slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling.
Indeed, from the perspective of potential social costs and harm to gamblers and their families, the situation is very serious. I’ve tabulated the numbers, and it is clear that additional revenue from SLOTS/ETG (Electronic Table Games) is alone fueling the increased gambling revenue at Rivers Casino in its 2nd year of operation. I call this process “Slotsification”.
- It may be merely a coincidence that this is happening after Rivers Casino operated for a year in Schenectady, but “Studies by a Brown University psychiatrist, Robert Breen, have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.” From “Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict” (New York Times, October 10, 2013, by Natasha Dow Schüll).
- What about Millennials? Has Rivers also decided to make more money by luring in millennials, who spend on food, drink and entertainment, rather than on gambling when at Mohawk Harbor? That helps Rush Street and Galesi Group profits, but does not increase gambling tax revenue receipts for the City and County. [See the article on Millennials and Casinos quoted at length below.] The Casino does not have to reach its bloated projections to be a business success.
Will community leaders such as NYS Assemblyman Phil Steck, who say we must help the Casino succeed, turn a blind eye to the added hazard to our Community? Steck, who we’ve been calling “the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor” since his letter in support of Rivers Casino in June 2014, recently wrote that “Revenue raising is paramount”, after bemoaning the negative effect on the poor and vulnerable. This is, of course, the dilemma casino opponents saw when they opposed bringing one to Schenectady. The monograph “Poverty and Casino Gambling in Buffalo” (Center for the Public Good, by Sam Magavern and Elaina Mulé, January 19, 2011, gives a good summary of the dangers for already-struggling cities that turn to casinos for revenue. And, it highlights the obvious:
“any trend away from slot machines, which are the most lucrative form of casino gambling, would hurt the state’s revenues from casinos.“ [quoting Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission]
And, consider “State Gambling Revenue Takes Hit as Millennials Bring New Habits to Casinos” (Pew Trust, Stateline Article, by Elaine S. Povich, Sept. 15, 2015), which opens with this statement:
Casinos across the nation are suffering from a generation gap, especially at the slot machines, as young people seek more exotic electronic games like the ones they can play on smartphones from anywhere.
That’s a problem not just for casino operators, but for the 23 states that rely on revenue from casino taxes, particularly from lucrative slots, to help balance their budgets and fund new priorities.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
It is easy to be flippant and say, “Don’t ask Casino Opponents, we told you so,” back when our elected and appointed political leaders, and businesses hoping for a Casino Gravy Train, refused to even acknowledge the risks. Well, we did tell you so (e.g., this post), precisely because we feared just this situation: Big Problems without Palatable Solutions. No Answers for getting out of the Casino Casualty Syndrome and the related suffering of families and individuals; lots of temptation to seek more favors for the Casino, such as legislation with tax reductions or gimmicks (such as a marketing allowance), or spending $2 million on a Large Vessel Dock along Mohaw Harbor; plus, a lot of uncertainty and pain for employees at the Casino and associated businesses, if the Casino declines slowly, and especially if it fails and closes.
Even if they secretly know the damage that is likely to happen to our Community, the temptation for our “leaders” to push on is great, refusing to confess their short-sighted mistakes, pressuring local businesses and civic groups to patronize Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, and looking for legislative “solutions.” One thing for sure, the cognitive dissonance that we hear from politicians like Phil Steck does not help one bit. The Assemblyman tells us:
Perhaps some day there will be no casino at Mohawk Harbor. No one can predict the future; it is sensible to plan for an alternative. But, Rivers is here, so we need it to be as successful as possible. One constituent wrote to me on this subject citing the old adage: “Let’s take the lemons and make them into lemonade.”
No one should be surprised that the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor offers us no Lemonade Recipe and suggests no likely ingredients for the mix (other than a “not-a-bailout” tax break in the form of a marketing allowance that is too silly to even call specious). There is no secret, magical “sugar” to sweeten our Casino Lemons, and no law that will tow the wreck away. We are all left puckering up, and wincing, as the future rushes toward Slotsnectady, a City that once could Light and Haul the World, but now glories in “smart” lamp-posts, its homely-but-bossy Casino, and its beer-cultured Renaissance.
. . share this post with this short URL; https://tinyurl.com/Slotsification
. . this is one of the mastheads we used when this website was called StopTheSchenectadyCasino.com:
. . they gambled with Schenectady’s future, putting possible revenues ahead of the social costs, and acting as if there was nothing to lose . .
Appendix: Why are Slots so Addictive?
The New York Times article cited above, “Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict” (October 10, 2013), gives a good explanation of how/why slots are so addictive. It was written by Natasha Dow Schüll, and anthropologist and the author of “Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas”(Princeton University Press, 2013).
Modern slot machines – which typically feature video screens instead of mechanical reels, buttons instead of handles, and accept player loyalty cards instead of coins – are the driving force behind campaigns to expand legalized gambling in the United States. The devices generate upwards of three-quarters of gambling revenue. Even in so-called destination-resort casinos, they bring in twice as much as all other games put together.
But slots are noteworthy for more than their extraordinary revenue performance.
Studies by a Brown University psychiatrist, Robert Breen, have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.
The particular addictiveness of modern slots has to do with the solitary, continuous, rapid wagering they enable. It is possible to complete a game every three to four seconds, with no delay between one game and the next. Some machine gamblers become so caught up in the rhythm of play that it dampens their awareness of space, time and monetary value.
“They don’t talk about competition or excitement,” says Robert Hunter, the clinical director of the Problem Gambling Center in Las Vegas. “They talk about climbing into the screen and getting lost.”
They are after “time on device,” to use the gambling industry’s term for a mode of machine gambling that is less about risk and excitement than about maintaining a hypnotic flow of action – a mode that is especially profitable for casinos.
So-called problem gamblers are known to contribute a grossly disproportionate percentage of slot machine revenues – 30 to 60 percent, according to a number of government-commissioned studies in the United States, Canada, and Australia. But they aren’t the only ones whose finances and well being are at stake in expansion of machine gambling. “Over‐spending and/or losing track of time or money occurs for the majority of regular players,” a 2011 Canadian report found. As the psychologist Mark Dickerson explains, the modern slot machine “erodes the player’s ability to maintain a sequence of informed and rational choices about purchasing the next game offered.”
Gambling industry leaders insist that addiction resides in people, not inanimate machines. Yet they invest a great deal of money and energy in the effort to influence consumers’ behavior through technology design. To take the title of one panel at an industry trade show, their aim is to “Build a Better Mousetrap.”
Surely, civic leaders looking to close budget gaps can find more ethical alternatives than capitalizing on such traps.