2021 | Week of March 1 | Radio Transcript #1401
A 1996 survey revealed that less than 1% of Wisconsin citizens, or about 32,425 residents were problem gamblers and that the annual social costs related to those problem gamblers was over $300 million, or $9,469 per problem gambler in general and over $10,000 per casino problem gambler. Those numbers clearly should have told us something. But they didn’t.
And now, in 2021, Wisconsin has approximately 7% of its adult population, or about 333,000 people, identified as problem gamblers, which means, even using the same 1996 per-gambler cost, Wisconsin society now pays well over $3 billion annually in social costs related to the dysfunctional consequences of problem gambling. Once again, those numbers should clearly tell us something.
I hope this is one of those times that we prove wrong the old adage that the one thing we fail to learn from history is that we fail to learn from history.
So, what are some of the drivers in this drastic increase in the number of problem gamblers in The Badger State over the last 25 years? The biggest driver in this increase is undoubtedly more casinos and, more importantly, more games and longer hours for the casinos.
In 1991 and 1992, just 4 years before the referenced survey, then-governor Tommy Thompson signed 11 tribal compacts, and Indian gaming casinos began operating in Wisconsin. In those days, the number of games was pretty well restricted, as were the hours of operation and compacts were reviewed, renegotiated, and resigned on a regular basis, generally every 5-7 years.
However, that all changed in 2003, when then-Governor Jim Doyle decided to dramatically increase the number of games casinos could offer, expanded the hours of operation, and arranged that the compacts never again had to be renegotiated. Currently 11 tribes operate 25 casinos, with over 19,000 slot machines and 300 gaming tables. No matter how you cut those numbers, that’s a lot of casino gambling available to Wisconsin citizens. It’s so much gambling, in fact, that the tribes’ net revenue, not gross, since 1992 is over $27 billion.
Groups such as Wisconsin Citizens Against Expanded Gambling remind us that studies have shown that having a casino within 10 miles—and some studies show 50 miles—of a person’s home significantly increases the likelihood of a person becoming a problem gambler. More casinos, more games, and longer hours for gambling in Wisconsin’s casinos is definitely contributing significantly to more problem gamblers in our state.
What’s amazing is that right now on Governor Evers’ desk is a proposal for a new casino in Beloit, which if the governor approves, would give our state its first off-reservation casino. But it wouldn’t be the last such casino, since there’s an understanding that what one tribe gets, they all get. Imagine the increase in problem gamblers should we keep adding off-reservation casinos. Governor Evers has sole discretion on whether or not this Beloit casino proceeds.
Problem gambling has become such a problem in Wisconsin and nationwide that we now recognize March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month.
Gambling for many people isn’t just innocent entertainment; it becomes a powerful addiction, impacting families and entire communities. It stresses marriages, results in crime, especially embezzling, increases other addictions, creates poverty for families, often causes depression and sometimes even suicide. Problem gambling comes with a steep price tag for everyone who lives in a state where casinos abound.
Wisconsin literally cannot afford more casinos. Citizens in Beloit should pay attention to these realities. No matter what the tribes promise, know that their promises come with real strings—strings such as enormous financial costs borne by taxpayers, the breakdown of a community’s most important resource— her families, destroyed lives, increases in crime and more.
Problem Gambling Awareness Month is a good time for all Wisconsin citizens to wake up to the truth about gambling. Let’s learn from our history—our very recent history. Wisconsin doesn’t need any more casinos; the price is simply too high.
For Wisconsin Family Council, this is Julaine Appling reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”