Anti-gambling forces weakening in one-sided fight
It’s over. The final buzzer hasn’t sounded yet, but you can put this one in the win column.
Anti-gambling forces in the United States (and to a lesser degree in Canada) have lost. Opposition to the expansion of online and casino gambling opportunities have all the legs of the road-weary NBA team playing back-to-back-to-back nights.
For gambling opponents, there are just too many brush fires to put out and not enough water.
The evidence is everywhere.
Bricks and mortar casinos are being built all over the country as states try to bring in tax money to prevent cutbacks or elimination of popular programs. More than half the states now have casinos. A few years ago, there were no casinos in Pennsylvania. Now there are 10, and they’re so popular that collectively they are making life miserable for Atlantic City.
For two decades, Indian casino giants Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun had a monopoly in New England. Now four other New England states – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine – have either gone forward with expansion or are seriously talking about it.
Ohio. New York. Florida. Minnesota. The list goes on, even as new opportunities in the online world threaten to give the industry a complete makeover. Attendance at the recent iGaming North America conference in Las Vegas was nearly double that of the previous year, as businesses maneuver to take advantage of the federal government’s new laissez-faire policy toward internet wagering.
Keeping track of developments online has become nearly a full-time job. Software deals are announced almost daily, as companies try to position themselves for the near-future date when states get on board the legalization train.
“It’s exciting and exhilarating,” said one conference attendee. “We have an idea where this is going, but no one knows for sure what the landscape will be like when the dust settles – if the dust ever settles.”
Through it all, opposition to gambling has been muted. Anti-gambling forces have had limited success, stalling a major casino in Miami, tapping the brakes on casinos in Kentucky and beating back an online legislative effort in Mississippi. And federal online legalization efforts have been all but abandoned until the next Congress, but the needle is definitely pointing upward and expanded gambling efforts have risen faster than the stock market has in the past three months.
Lotteries have always enjoyed a free ride in the United States. They helped win the Revolutionary War and helped build the Washington Monument among other things. Noted gambling author, Father Richard McGowan of Boston College, points out that many people don’t view playing the lottery as real gambling.
“They’ve made an accommodation with the lotteries,” Father McGowan said in a recent interview with Covers.com. “As long as the proceeds go toward the common good – things like tax relief, road repair and schools – they’re fine with it.”
Churches have always been at the forefront of the fight to stall efforts to increase gambling opportunities. Anti-gambling legislators will always turn to church leaders when expansion hearings are held, and clerics – especially Catholics – will always deliver with worst-case stories about how gambling destroys families.
There are a couple of problems here. The economy has changed the landscape, forcing states and local communities to search for ways to keep the tepid economy from making life miserable. And the church ceded a lot of its moral authority when it couldn’t seem to keep many of its own leaders on the straight and narrow, then protected them. And wasn’t Father McGuire the one who actually used to call out those bingo numbers? Glass houses.
Even the old argument about more gambling opportunities creating more compulsive gamblers was undercut by a recent Harvard University study which showed that “the rate of PG [pathological gambling] had remained relatively stable during the past 35 years despite an… increase in opportunities.”
In New Jersey, Chris Christie is on a (very large) surfboard and riding the pro-gambling movement. At this time last year, Christie had refused to back a private court challenge to the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, and was getting ready to veto legislation that would have made New Jersey the first state in the country to legalize online play.
Now, he’s on board with both efforts, backed by the Dept. of Justice’s decision to allow the states to establish their own internet platforms and the recent referendum that empowered the Garden State to overturn PASPA and legalize sports betting.
On a recent drive to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, about 12 miles from my house, I counted 27 places where lottery tickets could be sold. A few months ago, the town went bonkers when Patriots owner Robert Kraft proposed leasing land to Steve Wynn for a new casino across the street from Gillette. Now, only a few casino and "NO DICE" lawn signs could be seen as opposition softens.
Anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but it all adds up and it’s overwhelming. Like a road-worn NBA team, opposition to gambling is crumbling. The winners can now name their own score.