Earl Grinols, an economics professor who has studied the social costs of gambling, freely admits that most people wouldn't become problem gamblers if a casino opens in Fort Wayne. But a small percentage will become “problem” or “pathological” gamblers, and the costs they suffer are so great that all of us will pay the price.
That's the heart of the message Grinols, who teaches at Baylor University, brought to a Fort Wayne audience of about 60 Friday at the Allen County Public Library. His visit was arranged by the Coalition for a Better Fort Wayne, a politically unaffiliated group of religious and business leaders opposed to bringing a casino to town.
According to many estimates, only 2 to 4 percent of people become problem gamblers or pathological gamblers. Grinols said this tiny minority can spawn enormous problems.
At the most serious, gambling addiction can move addicts to rob, to embezzle, to commit suicide, even to commit murder, he said. But gambling, generally sold to a community as harmless entertainment, pecks away at the foundation of society in smaller ways, too.
“How many people pawn their possessions for recreation?” he asked.
He emphasized that problem gamblers and gambling addicts aren't just incidental consequences of legalized gambling. These most desperate gamblers are the most important revenue stream for gambling companies. Grinols cited research at a casino in New Mexico that showed 50 percent of the wagers were made by 1 percent of the gamblers, and 80 percent of the wagers came from 10 percent of the gamblers.
Indiana casinos pay hundreds of millions in taxes yearly, but Grinols said that the quantifiable social costs. Averaging a half-dozen studies that tried to put price tags on the ill effects of gambling, he said that the average pathological gambler will cost more than $10,000 for law enforcement, lost time and productivity on the job, unemployment, health problems.
He spotlighted statistics from Nevada, the nation's center of legalized gambling, to show that a society built on gambling is weak in ways that matter deeply. In recent years, he said, Nevada has been first among the states in its rates of suicide, divorce, women killed by men and gambling addiction.
Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry has remained noncommittal on the question of bringing a casino in For Wayne. But his administration did commission two reports on its economic and social effects.
The study on its economic effects, performed by Indianapolis-based Third House Advocacy Group, said a full-capacity gambling market in Fort Wayne could generate between $184 million and $244 million annually, supporting between 1,727 and 2,283 gaming jobs and up to $44 million in gaming taxes.
The city's look at gambling's social effects, a study by John Stafford, director of the Community Research Institute at IPFW, said problem and pathological gamblers can create many problems. Stafford did not attempt to quantify those ill effects of gambling.
He did note that gambling jobs aren't necessarily high-paying. Stafford's study said the average wage in Indiana in 2007 was $37,528, about $4,000 more than the average casino salary.
Many gambling opponents are not soothed by Henry's declining to take a position for or against a casino in town or by his call for a referendum to let Fort Wayne residents show their sentiments.
City Council President Tom Smith attended Grinols' talk Friday, and he asked Grinols what he knew about referendums on casinos. Grinols said he could offer only his opinion, not any research on the subject, but continued that gambling businesses can always spend more money in preparation for a vote than can gambling opponents.
And he's seen gambling supporters return referendums to the ballot year after year.
And once a casino is established, it's unheard of for a community to shut it down.