With the exception of one group, most experts agree bringing a casino to a community increases gambling addiction rates in that area by 100 percent.
“It doubles the rate of gambling addiction within a 50-mile radius,” said Les Bernal, national director for the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization Stop Predatory Gambling.
But an official with the National Center for Responsible Gaming said that is not true and that the effect is neutral.
“The last 20 to 30 years, we have had an incredible explosion [of casinos built across the country], yet the prevalence rate of gambling disorders has remained the same,” said Christine Reilly, research director with the National Center for Responsible Gaming.
More than 80 percent of Americans gamble, but the prevalence of gambling addiction among adults is just 1 percent, Reilly said.
The National Center for Responsible Gaming, based in Beverly, Massachusetts, is funded by the casino industry.
Studies on gambling addiction rates are usually done by interviews via telephone or in person, Reilly said.
Natasha Dow Schull, associate professor of media, culture and communication at New York University, said research cited by the gambling industry claiming that addiction rates have remained steady — despite the growth of the casino industry — over the last few decades is flawed.
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“There are a number of problems with this claim, not least of which is the fact that more stringent criteria are now used to assess whether a gambler has a problem than were used in the past,” said Schull, author of the book, “Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas.”
Danville officials have expressed support for a casino in Danville because of the potential tax revenue that could be used to address local needs, including the school system.
Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation March 22 that could bring casinos to Virginia. The bill directs the Joint Legislative and Review Commission to conduct a comprehensive study of casino gaming regulations and submit a report by Dec. 1.
It also establishes the framework for the Lottery Board to oversee gaming and would allow three cities with economic challenges — Danville, Bristol and Portsmouth — to hold referenda on whether to have a casino.
Referenda on casinos would also be allowed in Richmond and Norfolk, which have been identified as possible sites for the Pamunkey Indian tribe to establish a casino.
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It also stipulates that a gaming license only be issued for projects with a minimum capital investment of $200 million in land, facilities, infrastructure, equipment and furnishings.
However, the legislation must be re-enacted by the General Assembly during its 2020 session and, if it is, establish a series of deadlines.
Reilly said there is no evidence to support the notion that introducing a casino to an area doubles gambling addiction rates. There may be a slight bump in gambling problems, but the population adapts and re-adjusts its habits over time to the new betting opportunities, she said.
“Otherwise, we would have a higher rate of gambling disorder because of the explosion of gambling in the last 20 to 30 years,” Reilly said.
But according to a 2013 report published by the Institute for American Values, a large-scale study in 2004 found that those living within 10 miles of a casino have twice the rate of gambling problems than those who do not.
Another study, according to the report, found that the four counties in Nevada with the greatest access to casinos had the highest problem gambling rates while the four counties with the least access had the lowest rate.
Danville Police Chief Scott Booth said studies have shown that a casino can result in a rise in property crime.
“When it’s tied to crime, property crime, people are trying to find a way to feed that addiction,” he said.
But he has no problem with the idea of a casino in Danville. The city needs the job opportunities and investment that can provide tax funding to the school system, Booth said.
“We will do whatever the city needs us to do to ensure public safety,” Booth said.
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A large percentage of a casino’s revenues come from problem gamblers, said Richard Daynard, law professor at Northeastern University in Boston and president of the school’s Public Health Advocacy Institute, a legal research center focused on public health law.
“That’s their bread and butter,” Daynard said.
Casino opponents like Bernal draw a distinction between large casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City that draw high-rollers from all over the world, and regional casinos in smaller communities aimed at luring nearby residents.
As regional casinos open up in economically-depressed areas, they bring in more low-income citizens, according to information provided by Bernal.
“Low-income workers, retirees, minorities, and the disabled comprise a disproportionately large share of regional casino users,” according to information from Stop Predatory Gambling. “One important reason for this is that those who are financially desperate look to regional casinos as a way to improve their lives and help them escape their financial condition.”
But regarding the vulnerability of people over 65 to gambling addiction, studies have yielded mixed results, according to the National Center for Responsible Gaming’s “Guide to Gambling Disorders and Responsible Gaming.”
Some have suggested that gambling can be a social outlet for older adults, according to the center.
Researchers from Yale School of Medicine analyzed data on 25,000 people 40 and older from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. “Older recreational gamblers reported better physical and mental health functioning than older non-gamblers, despite similar levels of chronic illness.”
But Stop Predatory Gambling points out that the predominance of penny and nickel slot machines reveals their target market.
“‘High rollers’ are not playing the penny slots,” according to information provided by Bernal.
The slot machine, according to the group, is designed to get users to play until their money is gone. Nearly a dozen studies show that 40 to 60 percent of slot machine profits come from residents who can’t stop using them, according to information provided by Bernal.
Stop Predatory Gambling refers to Schull’s book reporting that people who follow responsible gambling guidelines made up 75 percent of players but contributed just 4 percent of gambling profits.
“The bulk of gambling profits are taken from citizens who are suffering,” according to information provided by Bernal.
Reilly, with the National Center for Responsible Gaming, said plans for legalized gambling and new casinos should include funding for gambling treatment and research, responsible gambling measures in casinos such as a posted helpline number and an option for those with problems to “self-exclude” or ban themselves from a casino.
“A lot of casinos have a self-exclusion program,” Reilly said, where patrons who may be forming an addiction can voluntarily bar themselves from a gaming establishment.
“It’s always important to have in place public health measures that will take care of problems,” Reilly said.
Andy Poarch, spokesman for the proposed Bristol Resort and Casino, said, “Certainly, it’s our feeling that a resort and casino would not have a direct correlation with increasing rates of addiction.”
The Virginia Lottery provides resources for those who may have addiction, and if the Bristol project goes forward, there would be well-funded help for people in that area, Poarch said.
“We would follow that same model and seek to put those same resources in place,” he said.