Just minutes after posting today’s entry, I got a call from someone whose views I respect and who has a track record of public service.
He wanted to let me know why he views gambling as a poor economic move for the state. It offers “a false promise,” in his view. I’ll try to summarize his main points.
• Since gambling is legal in 48 of the 50 states, few visitors would come to Hawaii primarily to gamble. They can do it at home, or in places much closer to home. This means gambling will not bring in new or additional dollars.
• If it doesn’t draw new visitors who would not otherwise choose Hawaii as a vacation destination, then visitor expenditures for gambling would likely displace spending on other local goods and services. And, since gambling venues are likely to be owned and operated by companies from outside Hawaii, this would be a net drain on state revenue.
• The current situation, which requires local residents to travel to Las Vegas or other venues to gamble, with the associated travel costs, creates a form of “internal control” over how much they spend gaming. If gambling were legalized here in Hawaii, that control would be lost and those least able to afford gambling losses would be more likely to become bettors.
• At public hearings on proposed gambling legislation, few proponents appear except for paid lobbyists.
An 11-year old study of gambling in Hawaii challenged the assumption that legal gambling wouldn’t draw new visitors. It was prepared for a company promoting gaming, but it tries to put number to the potential economic impact.
It posits a modest number of new visitors drawn to gaming, as well as the capture of some expenditures by local residents who would otherwise go to Las Vegas.
Perhaps there are newer numbers, especially some that look at the current slow-down in gambling-dependent economies across the country.
My own feeling is that people who can’t really afford to gamble already have many illegal options within reach locally, with lots of existing opportunity to become problem gamblers. My friend, on the other hand, thinks that most vulnerable people are deterred by the “illegality” of gambling, but would quickly be attracted to legal gambling, raising the social costs of legalization.
I don’t know of any studies of this question. Perhaps others can come up with suggestions.
In any case, I think my friend raises substantial questions, and it would be useful to have fresh data to assess them.
You can tell that I haven’t pored over testimony on any of the gambling bills. Hopefully some of you out there can point me to the highlights.