Legalizing South Florida casinos would impact Gainesville

Paul Davies, The Gainesville Sun, 3/15/2014

After all, studies show that the increases in crime, divorce, suicide and bankruptcy are mainly within a 75-mile radius of where the casino opens. But that doesn't mean Gainesville-area residents won't be lured to South Florida if the proposed casinos are legalized there. To be sure, the casinos will likely offer cheap bus transportation to South Florida – as they do in many other area markets. Many college students will also be enticed to take road trips to the casinos during weekends and or spring breaks. The increase in frequent visits to casinos will lead to more problem gambling. In fact, casinos largely depend on repeat and problem gamblers to survive. Studies show that anywhere from 30 percent to 60 percent of their customers are repeat and problem gamblers.

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Subjects: Gambling, Casinos

More by: Paul Davies

Given the more than four-hour drive to Broward County, residents of Gainesville may feel detached from the debate over whether to allow casinos in South Florida.

But if casinos are legalized in South Florida, rest assured the impact will be felt in Gainesville.

The fallout from the economic and social problems that come from casinos will not be as acute in Gainesville.

At least not at first.

After all, studies show that the increases in crime, divorce, suicide and bankruptcy are mainly within a 75-mile radius of where the casino opens. But that doesn't mean Gainesville-area residents won't be lured to South Florida if the proposed casinos are legalized there.

To be sure, the casinos will likely offer cheap bus transportation to South Florida – as they do in many other area markets. Many college students will also be enticed to take road trips to the casinos during weekends and or spring breaks.

The increase in frequent visits to casinos will lead to more problem gambling. In fact, casinos largely depend on repeat and problem gamblers to survive. Studies show that anywhere from 30 percent to 60 percent of their customers are repeat and problem gamblers.

Casinos are skilled at doing whatever it takes to attract and lure gamblers. The casinos track customers by using loyalty cards that are plugged into slot machines. As such, the casinos know how often gamblers visit, how long they play and how much they spend. When gamblers do not come back, the casinos attempt to lure them back with a variety of incentives including cheap hotel rooms and gambling vouchers.

The goal is to get gamblers to the casino and to keep them playing for as long as possible. The industry term is "play to extinction." It is disturbing to think Florida lawmakers would want to legalize and partner with an industry whose main business is to strip wealth from their customers.

But the even bigger problem for Gainesville, and other parts of the state not vying for a casino right now, is that the casino industry and the lawmakers never stop at just one or two casinos. Once the casinos enter a state they continue to lobby for more and more gambling options. As the industry's influence grows and the state gets hooked on the gambling revenue, lawmakers will often approve more and more casinos.

There are 18 casinos in Iowa and the state is considering adding more. Mississippi has 30 casinos. Tiny Delaware has three casinos. Rest assured Florida will not stop at two.

If casinos come to South Florida, it will just be a matter of time before they push to come to Central Florida and beyond. Even more troubling, history also shows that states don't stop at just casinos.

As casino revenues begin to drop, states look to add new gambling options. In Illinois, there was a proposal to put slot machines in airports. Delaware has added sports betting, online gambling and keno in bars and restaurants. New Jersey has added online gambling.

The bottom line is that a public policy surrounding legalized gambling leads to more and more gambling. The leap from legalizing casinos to allowing online gambling is not a big one for Florida. Gambling online is a mostly untested area that will especially impact young gamblers – especially college students at the University of Florida – who will be able to gamble around the clock, in their dorm rooms on iPads and mobile phones.

So while the debate over casinos in South Florida may seem distant for many in Gainesville, this is an issue that will impact the entire state. Maybe not today, but perhaps one day soon.

In fact, Florida voters have rightly rejected efforts to legalize casinos in 1978, 1986 and 1994. Just two years ago, lawmakers nixed a plan to bring three casinos to South Florida.

Florida residents clearly understand the benefits of casinos do not outweigh the costs. Nothing in that equation has changed. But the industry has continued to spend millions of dollars on campaign contributions and lobbyists.

Here is the only safe bet with casinos: Once the casino industry gets its proverbial foot in the door, it will not stop in South Florida.

This article originally appeared here.

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