Casinos – Social Evil or Economic Boost
In the not too distant future, there will be a Large Casino in the centre of the City of Southampton. The licence for it has been granted to Aspers. In view of this, IBEX organised its AGM in June to include a visit from Rachel Lampard, the leader of the JPIT (joint public issues team) and an expert on gambling. Up to 2015, Rachel had been a member of the Gambling Commission for 9 years and is now a member of the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board. Since that meeting, Rachel has also been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List this year for services to Gambling Regulation – Rachel knows her stuff.
Rachel herself doesn’t gamble – thinks it’s a waste of time – but neither does she think it should be banned. It is certainly something, though, to be concerned about.
The far-reaching Gambling Act in 2005 set the current scene. Before then, there were 186 casinos in 53 permitted areas. The act in 2005 would allow a further 8 small casinos and 8 large casinos in addition to what was already in existence, but then would allow no more. What would have preceded the decision to allocate one of the large casinos to Southampton would have been discussions about the greatest Benefit – the maximum regeneration effect with the minimum problem gambling.
Aspers is already operating large casinos in Milton Keynes and in Stratford, East London. We saw photos of the Milton Keynes establishment and heard something about it – about casinos in general: the gaming machines are the most lucrative part of any casino or similar establishment. Not only do gaming tables need to be staffed, but individuals can also almost form an emotional attachment to a “one armed-bandit” – “I’ve been playing this machine so long it has to pay out soon!” It was also made clear, though, that casinos are places of entertainment – there are Sports Bars where you can just sit and watch “the match” (and of course do your betting at the same time), but it is also perfectly possible just to go along for a drink, a chat and maybe something to eat, and plenty of people do just that, with no gambling involved. A casino is a place of entertainment.
But who gambles, particularly if people might go to a casino just for a drink or a chat. In the month previous to Rachel’s visit, 55% of us didn’t gamble, and 18% of us only did the National Lottery, which only leaves 27% to do other things, like gamble at casinos.
What has led to where we are now? In 2005, the thinking was about regeneration. It’s difficult to comment on how successful a casino is in regeneration, because most research about it has been done in the USA, where they have gambling and non-gambling states. In the UK it is different, not least because Gambling is more widely available but it is also tightly controlled.
And what are the effects or benefits of gambling?
- Financial, as gambling brings in Government Revenue through gambling taxes and the like.
- Infrastructure, in that the building of a major casino might necessitate the improvement of local roads and transport links, which Casino operators may have to pay for.
- It’s good for other businesses – taxis, support services, suppliers, other parts of the tourist trade.
- It’s good for employment – it provides jobs. One important question would be whether it encourages people to stay overnight, thereby increasing the tourist spend in the City.
The effects are also social. People get a lot of pleasure from Casinos. It is a nice place for a night out, even without gambling, although it can also be a corrosive presence – Winners shout and losers curse.
There can also be crime. Money laundering and cheating do happen. They bring more tourists, and that brings crime. There is more alcohol and, of course, there is problem gambling, which brings debt and…. Crime. But there is also the fear of crime, which may outweigh the crime itself – 40% of people associate gambling with crime.
And then there’s Problem gambling! It is clear that Casinos do not want problem gambling to happen. It is not good for them, but they also make money from it. Problem gambling affects 0.5% of the population. 7.1% of men are at risk of succumbing. It affects individuals, families and communities. It brings debt, crime, relationship problems, mental health issues, co-morbidities (in other words, leading to other forms of problem, such as alcoholism) and vulnerability. And Casinos are a bigger source of problem gambling than other forms of gambling: they involve hard forms of gambling, they have a higher proportion of Problem Gamblers, they attract young men.
But gambling is highly regulated in these islands now, and it is very alert to problem gambling.
Rachel ended by confirming that, when it comes to the social evil against economic boost question, a Casino is a bit of both. But it will happen, so what can we do.
Chaplaincy – the staff in a casino are generally poorly paid and under pressure. They also suffer abuse from clients, particularly those who are losing. Casino operators seem to be suspicious of chaplaincy, though.
Community Forum – Aspers tend to do this when they open a casino. Does one get involved as a matter of course, or is there the danger that, in doing so, you are validating the casino?
Advice and Debt Charities will be all the more needed locally and will need support in all sorts of ways.
The Local Authority will monitor the Casino and its operation closely, both through licensing law and public health regulation. They keep the pressure on, and we will need to keep this up as well.
There is certainly a great deal for the Churches, alongside other agencies and individuals, to do!
Contact David Wrighton, Team Leader, E-mail: email@example.com