The film "Jerry Maguire" provided our culture with two memorable lines. The first--"you complete me"--still provokes men to gag, and women to sigh. But the other--"Show me the money"--has become the mantra for a generation.
Casino-style gambling, like the kind Pennsylvanians will soon be living with, has plenty of money to show, and at every step along the way. But where that money actually shows up is far removed from what's been promised.
The first stop for the money we actually know about (we can't prove bribes, payoffs, or "incentives") is state government. Since gambling is essentially a license to "print money," gaming licenses are cheap at any cost. And that price tag is anywhere from the tens, to the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The next beneficiaries are those who sell land to the developers who build and operate the casino--often at an incredible profit. Unfortunately, a few of those who sell that land have turned out to be government officials, caught red-handed. One would wonder why they would take such a risk, as lawmakers in Harrisburg are "legitimately" permitted to own a 1% share of the very gaming interests they are charged to regulate. No "conflict" there, huh?
But after the deal is done, many will line up to drink at the public trough. Out-of-state developers get to build facilities that are exempt from regulations imposed upon more legitimate local businesses. Out-of-state vendors are paid enormous sums to supply the gaming equipment used in the casinos. And out-of-state media will reap the windfall of advertising, designed to lure the dependent masses to lose their cash in the Keystone State.
Once the casinos open, though, the cashflow runs like a tsunami to the coffers of the gaming developers...as it trickles to a select few others. Need proof? Drive the streets of West Atlantic City, in search of the "rebirth" promised by the promoters back in the 1970s. But what about all those new jobs...increased tourist dollars...expanded business opportunity, reduced public debt, and "found money?" Let's look around town.
If we're following the experience of the Atlantic City experiment, our police budget is up 300%. We rank near the top of crime statistics. Our population is down 20%, and we've watched 40% of our local restaurants close their doors.* Our best and brightest entrepreneurs--once the backbone of the local small business economy--have squandered personal fortunes, and jobs are being lost each day. Property values are down, and investment is low. Local shelters are overflowing, charitable giving is down, and misery is running through the streets like so much raw sewage.
And I'm not yet counting the social costs--only "following the money." Oh, and don't expect to see the casino bosses, or the lawmakers who approved this travesty, to be playing the slot machine next to you. They fully understand what they've wrought--they knew it going in--and simply didn't care about the cost...to you. For it's not the rich and successful who hold the losing hand in this game: it's the poor and middle class gambler who's willing to risk it all for a taste of the illusion their own government has helped to create.
Coming Friday: One Courageous Man's Prescription for Sanity
*NY Times, 4/7/94 pg. 18a