Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Opinion: If you want more poor Georgians, legalize casinos

There is only one sound reason for supporting the introduction of casinos in Georgia. And it has nothing to do with jobs, scholarships or shiny new buildings.

Those supposed benefits will be fleeting, if the experience of other states is any guide. No, the only sound reason to support legalizing casinos is if you believe Georgia needs more poor people.

The one indisputable fact about casinos is the vast majority of people who walk into them leave with less money in their pockets and bank accounts. Everything else — about job creation, economic development and higher tax revenues — is speculative. Counting on those things is a roll of the dice.

For the people in other communities where the gambling industry has already arrived, those dice increasingly have been crapping out.

Despite what you might hear, this isn’t mostly about coaxing more money from the pockets of out-of-towners. If it were, we’d put some slot machines near the gates at Hartsfield-Jackson and be done with it.

As numerous academic studies show, the largest share of casino gambling revenues, anywhere from a plurality to a majority, come from a tiny number of so-called problem gamblers who live nearby. These aren’t conventioneers, tourists or wealthy folks with money to burn. They’re people already inclined to live at the margins of society.

Now, society is being asked to give them one last shove over the edge.

The gambling industry itself has cited studies indicating “only” 1 percent of American adults are problem gamblers. Considering the majority of these are bound to be concentrated in areas near a casino — other research suggests they tend to live within a 10-mile radius of casinos — this figure surely understates the magnitude of the problem in these areas. So does the fact it represents the narrowest definition of problem gambler. Other studies suggest the problem afflicts at least twice as many people.

But let’s take the industry’s preferred figure at face value and suppose a casino in metro Atlanta would lead “only” 1 percent of our people to develop a gambling problem. In a region of 5 million, that’s 50,000 people.

Fifty-thousand people who will be in greater danger of foreclosure or eviction. Fifty-thousand people whose marriages or relationships will be rocky or broken. Fifty-thousand people whose children will be more subject to neglect and abuse. Fifty-thousand people who will be more reliant on welfare programs and private charities.

Fifty-thousand people — plus the problem gamblers who would develop near the proposed second casino (which, given the language of the bill, would almost certainly be in Savannah).

The millions of dollars casino proponents dangle in front of you in the form of scholarships — including scholarships for low-income Georgians, their latest bauble — come from someone. The evidence is clear: The vast majority of that money would come from other Georgians, most of whom can’t afford it.

Speaking of that new scholarship program for poor Georgians: Isn’t that a rather ironic incentive to welcome an industry that would create more poor Georgians? I guess they know their market after all.

If the house always wins, everyone else on balance loses. Legislators, and their voters, need to ask themselves if they really believe a state can make itself more prosperous by making its people poorer.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.