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David Nightingale: On Casinos

An essay aired in 2005, concerning casinos in the Catskills, mentioned some of the pros and cons of gambling; now, in 2013, here we go again. It appears that, increasingly, the governments of many states are believing in gambling as a quick fix to shortage of funds.

Lotteries have existed for a long time, and helped in the founding of universities such as Princeton and Yale. In casinos, however, the constant winners are the casino owners – and the losers – except for the occasional lucky one – are those who gamble. For the latter there is the adrenalin rush, a hope, and a dream.

 NY State already has state-run lotteries, racetracks, and Indian casinos, and the proposal now is that there should be more.

We should not lose sight of the fact that gambling is the transference of money,and such transferences, copying an idea given long ago by the poet Robert Graves, '...are about as productive as people taking in each other's washing...' [ref.1.]

Wm Thompson, a professor at U Nevada, has emphasized that gambling (i.e., the mere shifting around of money) has no useful end-product [ref.2.]. Do legislators really believe we are producing something? The 'Oh but you see' people will say that jobs are being created to run the casinos, but he has pointed out that since gambling is frequently addictive, families are sometimes unable to pay domestic expenses, leading to family abuses. When he looked at figures from many states, it was clear that such ills have caused the need for extra personnel, such as police and social workers – which of course creates employment, but at what cost?

When money is spent in gambling, that money is in fact taken out of the general economy. Specifically, what might have been spent on groceries and/or rent is being diverted to casino owners and (by legislation of fees, permits and so on) to the government. This is the so-called governmental 'gain'.

Such an increase in the coffers could just as well have been achieved, heaven forbid, with a direct tax, or something that is, in the process, societally useful. A random suggestion might be, for example, to increase the anachronistic 5 cent per bottle [1982] deposit, because the state takes a percentage of all unclaimed deposits. Another random suggestion is to get serious about curbing corruption, greed and overpay. And what is overpay, the cynic may ask? Well, amongst other things it is that which the majority of the gambling participants don't have.

Some would argue that more gambling amenities would be producing more entertainment, in the form of dreams and hopes, but what NY State has of value, and which many tourists from all classes will pay for, is (amongst other things) beauty, such as frequently portrayed in the “I Love NY” TV commercials. With the introduction of more casinos that character would begin – perhaps imperceptibly at first – to change, with the rise in one kind of tourism contributing to a long-term diminishment of the other. Those first characteristics currently draw a wide spectrum of visitors – appreciative and sometimes well off. It would be understandable if the latter folks were to begin looking further afield as such a pollution begins.

Finally, there were good reasons gambling was sometimes made illegal in America in the past. Apart from political control by gaming interests, further transference of money from the relatively poor to the relatively rich is hardly a good idea, and I do not want government luring us towards such – however tempting the extra income is.            


1. Foreword to "Poems 1938-1945", by Robert Graves; Cassell and Company Ltd, London, 1946.

2. Google: Wm Thompson-Nevada-gambling (More than one reference.)

Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at New Paltz, and is the co-author of the text, A Short Course in General Relativity.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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