Jim Brown: The darker side of Louisiana's casino culture
Several quick financial fixes are being discussed in the current session of the Legislature involving the expansion of gambling. Here’s an interesting thought. Why is it that Louisiana and neighboring state Mississippi are always on the bottom of every national ranking involving virtually every aspect of a state’s quality of life? Yet casino gambling is widespread throughout both states at a level not found any place else in America outside of Las Vegas.
In Louisiana, the legislature is considering proposals to extend casinos into new parishes, including Tangipahoa, and allowing much larger facilities where present casinos are located. Presently, the state has 15 so called “floating” casinos, a huge land-based casino in downtown New Orleans, four racetrack casinos, 200 truck stop casinos and over 1000 restaurants and bars that have video poker machines. Wow! You can sure make a case for more casinos can’t you.
Casino supporters point out that the state is broke and about to fall off this so called “fiscal cliff.” But isn’t it interesting that the more progressive states throughout the south, from Virginia and the Carolinas all the way across to Texas, have developed new economic development prospects that offer their citizens better job opportunities.
Let me share a personal observation of how successful casinos are here in my home state of Louisiana. I was on my way to the state capitol in Baton Rouge on a Friday evening around 6 o’clock and was running about an hour early for a meeting. There is a riverboat casino within shouting distance of the capitol, so with some time to spare, I drove into the parking lot. Now I’m not a gambler, but I am a close observer of the local economic scene.
Traffic was heavy and the parking lot was full, primarily with older model trucks and cars. I parked and stood at the entrance as hundreds of gamblers came and went. Many of the gamblers had driven to the casino straight from work. Friday was a payday for many of the risk takers, so there was money to spend. A large number of visitors had their working uniforms on with name tags.
I don’t want to disparage these folks, but I would assume that many of them live from paycheck to paycheck. There were bills to pay and kids at home that needed attention. Yet here they were with money burning a hole in their pockets. And what better way to invest for your family’s future than by hitting button after button on a slot machine, or spending hour after hour at the roulette or blackjack table?
Louisiana political leaders have always been after the quick fix.
It was oil and gas beginning back in the 1950s with no concern for the environmental damage or setting aside tax dollars for a rainy day fund. Gov. Buddy Roemer raised the issue that “the oil and gas for Louisiana’s future was in the minds of our 5th and 6th graders.”
What he meant was that the mineral revenue is fleeting. We have to teach and develop entrepreneurs and people who want to build small businesses.
The state should have been focusing on educational reform, with specific emphasis on developing a large tech talent pool.
Even the most basic clerical and mechanical jobs require computer skills. Instead, Louisiana opted to keep its citizens amused with domed stadiums, moviemaker tax credits, and more and more gambling. Lawmakers are now considering legalizing sports betting. Hey, let’s bring back cock fighting. “Keep em’ fat, dumb and happy, and we will all get re-elected.”
Some will argue that if someone wants to throw away their money, so be it. But study after study has concluded that there are dramatic increases in the social and economic costs, along with the upsurge in crime that can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars in Louisiana.
There are many ways in the Bayou State to “Laissez les bons temps rouler.”
Expanding the present high level of betting is not one of them. There are just too many other ways to have a good time, without gambling away our already fragile quality of life.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.