And evil is sin, sin is forgiven, so gambling is in. Or something like that, at least according to the mind of government budget planners. In the industrial Midwest, where steady streams of tax revenue have become increasingly harder to come by, local governments have relied ever more on taxes levied on casinos and the ‘gaming’ industry (not gambling, mind you, that’s just too tawdry, it’s ‘gaming’).
Yesterday, I had the chance to go to a casino in Detroit for the first time since moving here. I didn’t go there for the purpose of gambling, as amongst my ever shrinking repertoire of vice, ‘gaming’ does not figure prominently. My sister is getting married this coming fall and we had to go see a band play to make sure that they were the real deal. I was struck by the number of people that were in Motor City Casino on a random Saturday afternoon at 5:15 p.m. Apparently people just go there for the afternoon.
Also, and I run the risk of coming off as an elitist and offending some, but these did not seem like the kind of people that have tons of disposable income. As soon as I walked into the casino, I thought of the entire establishment as a giant vacuum cleaner that was wedged directly into everyone’s pocket, vigorously sucking as much hard, sweaty, greasy cash out until said pocket was completely empty save for car keys, lint, an empty pack of Marlboro Lights, and ATM receipts for cash advances off of credit cards.
‘Gaming’ decidedly has adverse affects on the financial health of your tax base. As my father very accurately surmised, it also creates no new wealth. It just takes it from the pockets of the marks, and deposits it directly into the accounts of the shareholders of the casinos. Gambling always has, and always will, disproportionately adversely affect your average working (or not) Joe. Yet, it prevails, and it does so for a several reasons, mostly, however, because there’s a ton of money to be made in it, and if you offer the government a sizable cut, then you’re golden.
The problem with that is that it’s so profitable that lots of municipalities want in on the gig. To the point where the actual return on investment (and subsequently government revenue) begin to fall. Basically, we’ve reached a point where there are so many casinos, there’s not enough gamblers to make them all profitable, and for every new casino built, it’s not generating new business, it’s just taking business away from another casino, and by extension, a local government’s coffers. So, a business model that’s built on just taking money directly from its customers has reached the point where they’re just taking business away from one another.
And unlike an industry that actually creates a tangible product that has utility, the market for gambling is finite. It’s as big as it is, and you can’t make it any larger (without making it so that the house doesn’t always win, which invalidates the point of building a casino). Someone once told me that the idea that casinos would help with urban redevelopment was like saying a bandaid was an adequate treatment for a gunshot wound. It’s probably time to start thinking about alternate avenues of municipal revenue, because the ones coming forth from the casinos are in trouble, and probably aren’t the best for the tax base to begin with anyways.