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What are the health impacts of casino development?

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Late last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined plans to expand organized gaming in the state, arguing the addition of three casinos in upstate New York would bring substantial economic benefits to the region.

“We have gaming. The question really is, should we recognize the reality of our situation, and fully participate in casinos and gaming, and actually regulate it intelligently and tie it into our overall tourism efforts.”

Cuomo’s proposal emphasizes the thousands of jobs supported by the gaming industry in other states, and the boost that billions of dollars in revenue would deliver to economically depressed regions.

“Resort destinations with gaming can supercharge an economic development enterprise, we’ve seen that before. New Jersey, 35,000 direct jobs, those are significant numbers and they would be a significant impact, especially in upstate New York.”

But, casino development has other implications including, as researchers have discovered, a significant impact on health.

A comprehensive health impact study conducted in Kansas shows the employment generated by new casinos can result in health benefits, including the increased availability of health insurance and increases to the standard of living. 

“Primarily, the positive impacts would come from income and insurance that would be associated with additional employment,” says Tatiana Lin, lead author of the study conducted by the Kansas Health Institute.

But there are other risks involved, says Lin.

“We found that the additional access to gambling can lead to problem or pathological gambling, and those are associated with negative personal health consequences such as child abuse, domestic violence, and others.”

In the Cuomo proposal, the risk of problem gambling is addressed, but as a second tier criterion for evaluating potential sites for casino development.

Evaluation Criteria for Selection of the Resort Gaming Destinations: Evaluation Criteria will include: · Number of Jobs · Amount of Capital Investment (expected floor of $250-$500 million) · Amount of Projected Revenue to States and Localities · Local Support (Home Rule) · Amount of Franchise Fee · Vision for Development and Integration with Regional Tourism In addition, a series of added evaluation criteria will include: · Immediate and Full Financing Available · Comprehensive Development Approach · Experience in Gaming Development · Speed in Construction/Date of Completion · Pass Ethics and Integrity Reviews · Workforce Development · Labor Agreement · Environmental Sensitivity · Addressing Problem Gambling

Lin says chronic gambling can be linked to debt, divorce, domestic abuse and in some cases, suicide.

Colleague Catherine Shoults says their study also found increases in problem gambling coincide with a rise in the level of other addiction issues, like alcoholism.

“When you have increases in pathological or problem gaming, you see increases in other problems as well. The co-morbidities tend to both increase at the same amount.”

Shoults says when it comes to tourism, casino development can be a double edged sword.

While population increases associated with tourism could raise the social and economic status of a region, it can also increase traffic volume and crime levels.

Shoults says the extent of the impact of new casinos depends on the demographics and infrastructure of a particular community.

But, Lin says, the most significant impacts identified in their study are applicable across the board. She adds;

“Certainly, the number of risks and the magnitude of risks associated with the potential development of casinos, can potentially outweigh the economic benefits from the casino.”

The Governor’s plan relies on changes to the state’s constitution, subject to the approval of voters.

A selection panel would make final decisions on the location of the additional casinos, dependent on community support and the resolution of contractual issues with three upstate Indian Nations.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail