This week the Council on Casinos, a group dedicated to fighting the spread of gambling in America, released a report on “Why Casinos Matter.” Here are nine things from the report on casinos and gambling that you should know.
1. Throughout most of the twentieth-century, legal casino gambling in the U.S. existed in only two locations: Nevada and Atlantic City, N.J. Beginning in the 1990s, casinos spread across the nation at an accelerating pace. Today, 23 states have commercial casinos, a category which includes land-based, riverboat, dockside, and racetrack casinos. In the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, nearly every adult now lives within a short drive of a casino.
2. Unlike the old Vegas-style resorts, the new regional casinos depend decisively on attracting gamblers who live in the region, who return frequently, and who play modern slot machines. In 1978, outside of Nevada, there were virtually no legal slot machines in the United States. By 2010, there were about 947,000. In 2013, the percentage of casinos’ total gambling revenue deriving from slot machines is estimated at 62 to 80 percent, with racinos (racetrack casinos) getting 90 percent of their take from slots.
3. Modern slot machines are programmed for fast, continuous, and repeat betting. Players insert plastic, not coins; they tap buttons or touch a screen rather than pull levers; they place bets in denominations ranging from a penny to a hundred dollars on multiple lines that spin across a screen with each rapid tap of the button. The laws of pure chance or probability no longer dictate wins and losses on slot machines. Modern slots are hooked up to a central server that collects player information, preferences, and speed of play and has the capacity to program each machine to each player’s style. The trend in slot design is to provide a slow and smooth “ride,” with small wins that are less than the amount bet, but nonetheless encourage repeat bets and prolonged “time on machine.”
4. Problem gamblers account for 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues, according to studies conducted over the past decade or so.
5. A large-scale study in 2004 found that people who live within 10 miles of a casino have twice the rate of pathological and problem gambling as those who do not.
6. A study of members of Gamblers Anonymous found that upwards of 26 percent have gambling-related divorces or separations.
7. A study that looked at the spread of casino gambling in 300 Metropolitan Statistical Areas found that the presence of a casino reduces voluntarism, civic participation, family stability, and other forms of social capital within 15 miles of a community where it is located.
8. Casino gambling was once a largely upper-class activity. Today, low-income workers, retirees, minorities, and the disabled include disproportionately large shares of regional casino patrons.
9. States typically legalize casino gambling by changing state constitutions. They create regional monopolies for the casinos. They regulate lightly and often in ways that discriminate against other legal businesses. They rescue casinos from bankruptcy. In short, without the legal, administrative, regulatory, and promotional advantages provided by state governments, casinos would not be spreading into mainstream American life as they are today and would likely still exist only on the fringes of the society.