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Les Bernal: Why don’t casino advocates and executives patronize casinos?

March 11. 2014 5:47PM

If you learned there was a financial advisor in your community who never invested his own money in any of the financial products he offered, would you encourage your friends and neighbors to give him their money? Would you trust the future of your own family with a guy like that? Of course not.

So if you knew casino operators, slot machine makers and the politicians they partner with don’t use slot machines or gamble, why would you allow them to target your family and the citizens of your community, luring them to gamble away their savings, often turning their lives totally upside down? Because that’s exactly what you will be doing if you allow New Hampshire state government to sponsor casinos.

While many state leaders say that they are committed to fighting unfairness and inequality, their policy of sponsoring casinos is actually intensifying the very unfairness and inequality that they decry. And the most perfect example of it is this: a casino is the only product or service where the people who profit from it and promote it don’t use it.

Despite reaping billions of dollars from the have-nots in America, nearly every major casino operator, including Steve Wynn, Gary Loveman, CEO of Caesars, and Jim Murren, CEO of MGM, does not gamble, which they have confirmed in media interviews.

What about the guys who make the slot machines? In 2004, New York Times reporter Gary Rivlin toured the headquarters of International Gaming Technology (IGT), America’s biggest maker of electronic slot machines. Rivlin tells the story of his visit to IGT: “Most of the people I met inside I.G.T. told me they never played slot machines on their own time. When I asked one I.G.T. artist if he ever plays, he acted as if I had insulted him. ‘Slots are for losers,’ he spat, and then, coming to his senses, begged me to consider that an off-the-record comment.”

Slots are for losers, he said. Many of those losers will come from your family, your friends and your community.

But casino operators and slot makers are not the only ones who don’t gamble. Nearly all of the politicians who sponsor casino legislation and promote this public policy across their states don’t gamble either.

Let’s look right here in New Hampshire. Gov. Maggie Hassan has made partnering with casinos a top priority. Yet despite being a relentless advocate for casinos, she admitted she has never even visited a casino.

How about the state’s leading advocate for casinos for the last 15 years, State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro? Remarkably, but not surprisingly, D’Allesandro confessed to an Associated Press reporter in January 2014 that “I don’t gamble.” After all, according to our friend the IGT slot machine designer, it’s for losers.

Often described as “predatory gambling,” government sponsorship of casinos (and lotteries) is based on cheating and exploiting citizens. It is a mathematical certainty that the more citizens spend on gambling sponsored by the government, the more money they lose.

Most indefensibly of all, a mounting pile of independent evidence further confirms that government’s public policy of promoting casinos is contributing to the unfairness and inequality in our nation. It is harming health, draining wealth from people in the lower ranks of the income distribution, and contributing to economic inequality. These are among the findings of “Why Casinos Matter: Thirty-One Evidence-Based Propositions from the Health and Social Sciences,” a report released from the Council on Casinos in September 2013, an independent group of scholars and public policy leaders convened by the Institute for American Values, a nonpartisan New York City-based think tank.

A vote against casinos is a vote for fairness and equality. A vote for casinos is a vote for unfairness and inequality. Or echoing the unforgettable words of the IGT slot designer, it’s another way of saying New Hampshire citizens are losers.

Les Bernal is the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, based in Washington, DC.

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