Gambling.
Who Wins? Who Loses?
Gerda Reith

I should start by saying that this title isn't a single piece of work, with a begining, a middle and an end, but a compilation of academic papers and essays by twenty two different authors who discuss a fairly wide range of gambling related topics.

I haven't read all of the articles presented. Of those I have, some are fairly engaging and thought provoking, some less so and some I'm sure have only been included to pad out the 322 pages and for balance. As the book was published in 2003, a great deal of the research findings cited by the writers are now fairly old and are likely to have been superceded by more recent data. It's heavily skewed to work done in the States, although the UK and Australia do get the odd mention, and of course it was published before the 2005 Gambling Act was enabled in the UK - so has nothing included relating to the liberalisation of the regulatory framework for gambling in the UK, or the impacts of the increase in internet gambling opportunities across the developed world, and how govenments have amended legislation and taxation regimes in an attempt to keep up with it.

Amongst the differing sections that the collation is divided up into (Current trends in commercial gambling, Economic and social costs and benefits, Law, crime and commercial regulation - there are seven in total) one of the pieces I read did stand out above the rest - "Cutting the Cards and Craps" by Professor Earl Grinols. In his piece, Prof G challenges the regularly churned out argument that opening a new casino in a new locality brings with it welcome economic benefits, ie additional jobs, increased economic turnover, a boost in trade for established local businesses etc, with a raft of data, gathered over an extended period, which shows it to be nothing more than a myth.

The pros and cons of the "new jobs" benefitting the recipient community are examined, and it's pointed out that the new jobs created are only a benefit:

if there are more new jobs created than the number lost as a result of the casino opening (amongst other hospitality businesses such as restaurants, bars, the local bowling alley etc), and

if they're sustainable into the longer term, and

if the new jobs are taken up by local people and not people travelling in, and

if the net effect on the local employment market results in an equivalent number of people ceasing to be unemployed, and

if the pay and benefits of the new jobs don't impact adversely on other local employers - so there isn't a situation where locals don't take up other vacancies because an equivalent role at the local casino pays more.

A lot of ifs. In some cases studied, Prof G states that the creation of a raft of new jobs resulting from the opening of a new casino didn't make one iota of difference to the local recipient community. When a new casino opens in the UK, there's usually a fanfare at the number of jobs being created, and I'm sure the same considerations apply here.

On the other side of the coin, there are the less desirable impacts of having a glitzy new casino open in your neighbourhood. Prof G endeavours to quantify in dollars the average costs of crime and disorder, problem gambling and it's fallout, Health and Social Services interventions and other factors, and compare these to the dollar gains. His research and calculations indicate that where gambling is permitted, and a casino is in operation, the local community is c$156 per capita worse off than areas where a casino isn't present; on average the direct and social costs outweigh the benefits by a factor of over five to one. The cost base in the UK will, of course, be very different but I'd be surprised if similar comparisons undertaken in the UK produced net results that were greatly different. A sobering thought when you consider the hundreds of mini-casinos that occupy prime sites in the UK's high streets care of Ladbrokes, William Hill, Paddy Power and the others who sponsor these valuable "Hubs of the Community".

Overall, this title falls squarely into the category of a research text, as opposed to something one sets out to read cover to cover for entertainment or general interest. As such, it isn't one I'd recommend to anyone other than those looking to take a fairly deep plunge into the subject matter - and then it's probable that there's something available that's more up to date to get stuck into.

Gerda Reith has remained with Glasgow University since this collection was published in 2003 and currently holds the post of Professor of Social Sciences (Sociology). She has written extensively on gambling related topics, with her latest piece being a joint effort discussing youth gambling in Denmark, which was published in 2014 as part of the Journal of Youth Studies.

May 2015.


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