Commentary
11:08 am
Tue March 6, 2012

Casino Lottery

Yesterday I talked to a student who has a right to be proud of herself. Now in her early 30s, she was born in poverty to Mexican migrant workers in Arizona, and had two babies before she was out of her teens. Yet she got it together through sheer determination and hard work, and is now finishing her second college degree and working in public relations. She clearly has a bright future.

But the future looks equally bleak for her mother, who is only in her early 50s, but who, after years of backbreaking work, has become a gambling addict. Her life is the casino, her daughter said sadly. Her property is gone; her credit cards are maxed out, and her marriage is just about destroyed. Yet she cannot help herself.

According to one study by the National Gambling Impact Commission, Michigan has 350,000 problem gamblers. I’ve seen some of them when I’ve walked through the state’s casinos, people riveted to slot machines, or sitting at roulette tables with a zombie-like stare. That always gives me the creeps.

But what really unnerved me was a report that’s being published in the state’s Gannett-owned newspapers this week. There are already 25 casinos in Michigan, which seems way too many. But according to the story, Indian tribes and private investors are planning 22 more casinos in our state.

That puzzled me at first, since Michigan’s constitution provides for only three casinos other than those owned by Native American tribes. But a shadowy group called Michigan First would seek to amend the constitution to set off a bonanza of casino construction.

Michigan First, which apparently has some powerful former legislators associated with it, wants to put casinos essentially everywhere, and other groups have competing proposals as well. If all this were approved, there would be four new casinos out by Detroit Metropolitan Airport alone, and two in tiny Port Huron.

The Detroit Free Press quoted a law professor as saying, aptly enough, that this was all “fantasy land.” Indeed, it does sound sort of like some comedy skit where Michigan returns to prosperity by having every single resident open a casino in their backyard. That may be amusing.

But the actual result would likely be closer to a dystopian hell. For one thing, there’s no way Michigan can support this many casinos; they would merely cannibalize each other’s revenue. And beyond that, casino expansion would greatly increase our gambling problem. Having a casino on virtually every block won’t make temptation easier to resist.

Frankly, it is hard for me to see any benefit in casinos whatsoever. I have no problem with anybody being devoted  to chamber music or tractor pulls or both. But gambling creates nothing, preys on people’s weaknesses, and takes money from the poor to send to the rich. The Puritans weren’t wrong about everything.

Face facts: The rich who can afford it aren’t going to come in their Lear jets to Port Huron  to play the slots. Anybody who is tempted to support casino expansion ought to visit the ones we have now, and interview the customers after they’ve lost their rent money.

The only safe bet is that this isn’t the path to prosperity, for them, or for our state.