Slots at Home?
Should some of our legislators have their way, our fair state—once known for supplying arms for our military in every war since the Revolution, and later as the insurance capital of the U.S.—could soon rival Reno as our country’s gambling capital.
When Congress opened Pandora’s box by passing the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, only Nevada and New Jersey allowed casinos. There are now thirty-nine states awash with a 1,000 casinos, just half of them Indian. Connecticut, with its endemic budget crises, was quick to hop on board. Foxwood and Mohegan Sun, strategically located between New York and Boston, became the world’s largest casinos, their slots feeding state coffers $430 million a year. It was not to last.
There were only eight casinos in the Northeast when Foxwood opened in 1992, seven of them in Atlantic City. As long as Connecticut casinos enjoyed a monopoly, they could coin money. Now there are fifty-six, and a possible seventy with pending proposals. Competition from slots parlors and casinos in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island has cut deeply into casino revenue here, and contributions to the state have dropped to just $300 million. Foxwood has defaulted on its bonds and is still in debt.
This may seem like good news for people alarmed by the mass appeal of today’s highly efficient electronic slots designed to maximize betting speed and take. But besides the enormous social cost of gambling, evidence of its economic cost is found in the dramatic rise in arrests for embezzlement. Since Foxwood opened, arrests have increased 400% to ten times the national average, leading a columnist to label southeastern Connecticut the Embezzlement Capital of the World. One embezzler was Ledyard’s tax collector who stole $320,000 to cover her losses playing Foxwood slots.
Moreover, because of lost revenue from out-of-state betters, the state has turned to its own citizens to fill the gap, leading weak-minded legislators to devise other schemes to milk those who can least afford it through widened availability of slots.
Spearheading an effort to counter pressure to expand gambling is Robert Steele, former U.S. Representative for eastern Connecticut. He is sounding the alarm about what the powerful gaming lobby is up to, especially its effort to legalize Internet gambling, and has come to Greenwich twice to deliver impassioned warnings of the lobby’s nefarious plans.
The threat is real. According to Steele, in the waning hours of the 2013 budget session legislative leaders slipped in legalization of Keno, i.e., online betting, without exposing the rider to appropriate committees or public debate until the day of the vote. It made Keno available in every living room, dorm, bar and coffee shop. And a task force is expected to recommend that the General Assembly vote to legalize video slots in Bradley Teletheater in Windsor Locks, Sports Haven in New Haven and Shoreline Star Greyhound Park in Bridgeport. This would constitute the largest expansion of legalized gambling here since Lowell Weicker opened the door for our two mega-casinos.
It will be a tragedy for Connecticut and our way of life if through greed and lack of political courage our legislators and the Governor’s office turn to gambling to answer our fiscal problems. The real price is far higher than the politicians will admit.