As Boardwalk Empire begins its final season, so does real life Atlantic City, where grand casinos are closing at an unprecedented clip. Our elected leaders' solution to these financial troubles? More gambling. It will never work.
Brash Jerseyite Chris Christie is responding to the loss of several casinos and perhaps 8,000 jobs in Atlantic City by doubling down: he's telling the rest of the casinos in his state that his administration would like them to offer sports gambling (despite the fact that it's prohibited by federal law). From the Star-Ledger:
Lloyd Levenson, an Atlantic City attorney whose firm represents casinos, said casinos and racetracks will likely wait until a judge rules on whether to lift the injunction to put wagering in place, but he expects the judge to rule in Christie's favor.
He predicts sports wagering will be available by February at the latest.
Here are some things that Atlantic City could use right now: steady jobs outside of casinos; better schools; better municipal services for the thousands of residents who are about to suffer in unemployment. Those things are hard. What is easy is to try to goose casinos' revenues by letting them take sports bets. It also completely ignores the underlying problem. There is not too little legalized gambling in America. There is too much.
Why did all of these casinos in Atlantic City fail so spectacularly? Because of competition. They are no longer the only game in town on the eastern seaboard. There are now legal casinos everywhere. Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts... no one has to drive all the way to AC any more. Gamblers have a huge buffet of casino options at home. Chris Christie is not the only governor around here trying desperately to grasp at every last gambling dollar. In New York, Andrew Cuomo is considering multiple proposals to bring "Vegas style" casino outposts to our state. This, even though everyone involved in public policy knows very well that each additional casino that gets built is cannibalizing from a finite group of gamblers. U.S. states are now just trying to steal gambling business from one another.
You, the public, will not win at gambling. It is mathematically impossible. In aggregate, gambling amounts to a tax on the public. Most of that money goes into the pockets of casinos. A portion of it is handed off to state governments. State governments love casino revenue (and lottery revenue), because it is a way for them to make money without coming out and saying to voters that they are being taxed, and also because, in general, our elected leaders are craven cowards who care more about getting reelected than they do about enacting policies that will improve the lives of the public in a collective sense.
The gamblers are you, the public. If the public is poor, you cannot keep collecting infinitely more revenue from the public just by building new casinos. More casinos is not a good idea. Try building real economies. Try serving the public instead of trying to rob them in a colorful manner. Do your jobs, politicians. Stop acting like gangsters.