The City of Richmond, troubled by low revenue and high crime and unemployment and hoping to balance its budget, wants to partner with a distant Native American tribe to build a huge casino on Point Molate. Not only is gambling a bad way to balance the budget, the casino industry is predatory, deceptive and addictive.
In getting into the gambling business, the City of Richmond would be exploiting its most vulnerable citizens, creating, as Loni Hancock once said, “patients that need to be served.”
No major public policy issue in California is less understood than slot machines. Most know nothing about the product design, the technology, marketing and business model used by casinos. Most don't even use the product frequently, if at all. And most don't have personal relationships with the out-of-control gamblers who make up nearly all of the profits.
The question before the people of Richmond is not a debate about social forms of gambling like the kitchen table poker game. It’s about predatory gambling: using gambling to prey on human weakness for profit—and a business model that relies on 90 percent of its gambling profits coming from ten percent of the people who use the product, making nine out of every ten patrons virtually irrelevant to their revenues.
Slot machines, the primary source of profit for casinos, are the purest form of predatory gambling.
What makes slot machines different are the speed of the games; the kind of “buzz” or high people get when they play; the amount of money people lose; and the predatory marketing used to promote it.
According to MIT Professor Natasha Schull, the goal of modern slot machine technology is how to get people to play longer, faster and more intensively. Every feature of the machine—the mathematical structure, visual graphics, sound dynamics, seating and screen ergonomics- is geared, in the actual language of the predatory gambling trade, to get gamblers to “play to extinction”—which means until their money is gone.
Modern slot machines use buttons and video screens and complicated algorithms and virtual reel mapping, concepts that few people in the predatory gambling trade itself understand—much less policy makers and citizens considering these machines in their own communities. According to Dr. Schull, these algorithms perform a high tech version of “loading the dice”—in other words, cheating. She concludes by saying that a slot machine is designed to be so effective at extracting money from people that it is “a product that, for all intents and purposes, approaches every player as a potential addict—in other words, someone who won't stop playing until his or her means are depleted.”
Predatory gambling supporters nearly always refer to gambling addiction rates in general population numbers but most people don’t gamble regularly. You have to look at the people who use electronic gambling machines once a month or more.
A prominent government study spotlighted that nearly one out of two people who use electronic gambling machines once or more per month show problem gambling behavior. It’s these out-of-control gamblers who are the primary source of the predatory gambling trade’s profits.
Slot machines are so addictive because they cause changes in brain chemistry that are as addictive as drugs, according to National Council on Problem Gambling Executive Director Keith Whyte. Neurological studies show that gambling rewards the body with the release of dopamine, a brain chemical that causes a sensation similar to taking cocaine. Making slot machines easily accessible to the general public so they can get that buzz or intense escape anytime they want is nothing short of an addiction delivery system—all in the name of funding public services we all use.
A casino in Richmond will create a Gambler Class, the one out of five Americans who, according to the Consumer Federation of America, think the best way to achieve long-term financial security is through gambling instead of saving or investing. The casino proposal is dependent on addicted or heavily-indebted citizens, who often resort to crime to fuel their gambling addiction, and suicide to escape from it. How can Richmond actively promote a product that renders some of our fellow citizens as expendable?
In the long run, the casino will increase Richmond’s costs. The California State Association of Counties has stated that it costs casino host communities $3 in services for every $1 received from the casino by the local government. Partnering with the casino developers can only increase Richmond’s problems, not solve them.
For the City of Richmond, the Point Molate casino is a losing hand.
Marilee Montgomery is a founding member of Stop the Casino 101 Coalition in Rohnert Park.