Ignoring the Costs?
- Created on Wednesday, 30 November 2011 05:44
Today I testified before a Joint Senate Committee on plans for a new Vikings football stadium. JRLC doesn’t have issue papers about stadiums or professional sports franchises per se, but we do have an abiding interest in budget priorities and gambling as a source of public revenue.
For today’s hearing, I limited my remarks to the effects of gambling — there will be plenty of time to raise the budget priority issues later when the most viable plan emerges and the state’s financial role becomes clear.
Looking out at the panel of legislators I tried to understand how several of them have been dismissive of the public health threat posed by an escalation of gambling. Policymakers should at least acknowledge that social costs are real and should be weighed against estimated social and economic benefits.
So I decided not to let the term “social costs” go by without careful explanation. It’s just too easy to gloss over an abstract concept like “social costs.”
I explained that an escalation of gambling comes with demonstrable social costs: addiction, family violence, divorce, embezzlement, theft, suicide, child neglect, police and court costs, lost productivity, just to give them the short list. The whole business model of a casino rests on 48 percent of revenues coming from customers who meet the definition of "problem gamblers" and push real and measurable social costs onto all of us. The best social scientists and public heath research tells us that these costs outweigh the benefits by a ratio of about 3 to 1.
Some legislators argue that the existing casinos and the lottery weren't stopped by public health and social concerns when they began their operations, so why should the issue be raised now?
So today I told the committee when the existence of gambling becomes a rationale for more gambling and we ignore the costs, we've acquired a public addiction, and the legislature is no longer governing for the common good. I hope some bit of this sunk in. JRLC will be providing much more thorough written testimony next week.
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