News for Degenerates, Vol. 4: Va. may never have casinos, doesn’t want jobs, revenue

December 5, 2013

A line of gamblers forms to get in to the poker room at Maryland Live Casino in Arundel Mills. No such lines, or revenues, will be occurring in Virginia any time soon. (Sarah Voisin/The Washington Post)

Anyone’s fleeting hopes that a casino or two might someday rise in Virginia took a hammer blow to the teeth Saturday, courtesy of The Post’s J. Freedom duLac and this piece: Virginia resists the siren call of casinos as gambling halls proliferate across the country. Don’t read it, you’ll only get depressed.

So there are now just 10 states, and D.C., without casinos. The opposition in the Virginia General Assembly comes from Republicans who feel they know what is best for all of us, such as House Speaker William Howell (R-RoVa), who offered this fatherly wisdom to duLac: “I think overall it has negative human impact that outweighs any potential economic impact,” Howell said. “I don’t think it’s the right thing for the commonwealth.”

Thousands of jobs? Hundreds of millions of dollars for schools, roads or other areas of a depleted budget? Personal responsibility? HA.

How do you think a statewide referendum on legalized casino gambling might go? You’re right, it would pass easily (a Hampton Roads study said 85 percent of adults approve of casino gaming). No one is forced to go to a casino, and the perceived negatives of casinos (increased crime and bankruptcies) are proven false. The perhaps millions of Virginians who might enjoy a night at the tables, or the slots, are denied by religious groups ever vigilant to battle those whose morals differ from theirs, and conservative legislators uninterested in the views of the majority. Virginia’s General Assembly has gone so far as to pass a resolution in 2003 calling on another state, Maryland, to turn down gambling so as not to tempt us poor ignorant Virginians, duLac reports. Del. Bob Marshall (R-NoVa) told duLac he actually hand-delivered the resolution to the Maryland speaker.

It is indisputable that casinos create many jobs and also pay hundreds of millions in taxes annually which can be used for education. And Virginia’s legislature has drastically reduced funding of public education at all levels. At the college level, Virginia reduced spending by 18 percent at four-year institutions between 1992 and 2010, and the state ranks 40th nationwide in higher education funding, the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia reports. The average per student appropriation in Virginia is $1,254 lower than the national average. In grades K-12, Virginia has reduced spending by 11 percent since 2008. NBC Washington reports that the average school teacher in Virginia makes $15,000 less than their counterpart in Maryland.

Do casinos create an army of gambling addicts? The 40 states currently offering casinos have not found this. The most definitive studies done on gambling’s impact have found that a little more than one percent of the population with access to casinos can be classified as “pathological gamblers.” I would guess the percentage of the population who can be classified as alcoholics, or drug addicts, or cigarette smokers is much higher. Numerous well-researched studies have found no connection between casinos and bankruptcy rates. Casinos themselves are not dangerous because they are rigorously self-policed, and organized crime hasn’t made a dent in the ownership of casinos because of the intense state regulation.

The two most definitive studies done on the impact of legalized gambling were done more than a decade ago. Congress formed the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which issued a lengthy report in 1999. The following year, in response to a request from our own Rep. Frank Wolf (R-NoVa), the General Accounting Office produced another detailed report, “Impact of Gambling: Economic Effects More Measurable Than Social Effects.” The GAO report relied heavily on the national report from the previous year, but also a good deal of its own research, particularly looking at Atlantic City, which by then had lived with casinos for more than 20 years, in a city “about one-fourth the size of Dulles International Airport,” New Jersey’s top casino regulator wrote in a letter to the GAO.

That state regulator, James R. Hurley, also wrote that casino gambling “was much more successful than anyone ever anticipated” and that “We clearly believe that the positive impacts that casinos have generated far outweigh the perceived negative impacts.”

The Maryland Live Casino was packed as table games debuted in April. Virginia is not interested. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
The Maryland Live Casino was packed as table games debuted in April. Virginia is not interested. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Both reports said that the amount of quality data on the social impacts of gambling was limited. Neither report could reach a conclusion on whether gambling increased family problems, crime, or suicide for the general population, or in Atlantic City. The number of pathological gamblers in the U.S. was estimated in various studies between 1.2 to 1.6 percent. That translated into 1.8 million to 2.5 million adults in 1999, whose assorted economic costs were estimated at $5 billion, compared with $110 billion for drug abuse and $166.5 billion for alcohol abuse. The NGISC study concluded that “communities with casinos are just as safe as communities that do not have casinos.”

On the other hand, unemployment rates drop in areas with casinos and the amount of money spent on welfare declines significantly, the reports found. Real estate taxes also dropped significantly in New Jersey as casino tax revenue flowed in.

Speaking of tax revenue, in 2012 Maryland received $218 million in commercial casino tax revenue, according to the American Gaming Association, and its casinos are just getting started. The state of Missouri, with a population of six million and casinos in place since the mid-1990s, raked in $471 million last year. I lived in Missouri for 14 years, from the time casinos were introduced to when they were up and running, and the social fabric was not shredded by their presence. They simply became another entertainment option, not sources of financial upheaval.

Virginia has a population of eight million. A research paper done in September by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization looked at the possibility of casino revenue to fund road improvements there. They estimated 2,000 jobs would be created and $113 million in tax revenues would flow annually just from the Hampton Roads area.

Last year, the national pollster Peter D. Hart surveyed 210 elected officials and civic leaders in counties with casinos, excluding Nevada. Asked whether casinos brought in major problems such as crime and prostitution or hurt the community image, 88 percent said “No, that’s not the case.” Asked if they could go back to when casinos were first proposed in their area, would they vote for casinos, 76 percent said yes.

I’m not going to argue that there’s no negative impact at all to casinos. Problem gamblers in Maryland have destroyed their lives and their families, du Lac reported recently. In Atlantic City, many independent bars and restaurants were run out of business by casino bars and restaurants. There is some crime in and around casinos, as the Casino Watch blog documents, though these are large commercial centers and naturally attract some bad activity.

So even though Virginia has lottery gambling, which creates no jobs or entertainment, pari-mutuel wagering on horses at Colonial Downs and nine off-track betting sites where you can bet on horse tracks around the country, casinos have no chance while the General Assembly is disinclined to act. So those interested in the occasional game of cards, craps, roulette or slots must travel to Maryland, where duLac observes that close to half the license plates at Arundel Mills’s Maryland Live casino are from Virginia. I’ve been there, it’s fine, but expensive — $10 per hand blackjack was the cheapest game on a weekday at noon, and it went up to $15 while we were there. That also involves navigating the north side of the Beltway, which is terrible except in certain time windows. West Virginia’s Hollywood Casino at Charles Town is also an option, particularly for those in western NoVa.

When last the News for Degenerates checked in on D.C., they were trying to sneak in some online gambling. But it turned out the whole “review” and “approval” process was short-circuited and the idea imploded. The Post’s Mike DeBonis informs me that the concept is no longer on the city council’s radar.

So Northern Virginians will now wait for a casino to come to Prince George’s County. Three destinations are proposed: National Harbor, Rosecroft Raceway and in Fort Washington on Indian Head Highway. For convenience sake, National Harbor is closest to NoVa, and is being developed by a Fairfax-based outfit, Peterson Companies. We’ll take our losses, I mean our gaming dollars, over to Maryland. Virginia, its schools and its roads, will get zero.

Earlier in News for Degenerates:

Vol. 1: Gettysburg nixes casino

Vol. 2: D.C. closer to online poker 

Vol. 3: Poker in Va. loses shot at legalization

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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