Casinos don’t guarantee endless jackpots
It used to be if you wanted to hear the seductive whir of slot machines or put your poker face to work, you had to head east to Atlantic City or buy a ticket to Las Vegas, that desert oasis of titillation and indulgence.
No more. Atlantic City is teetering, as it has been for years; Las Vegas is now a family entertainment destination; and gambling is widely available, if not on every corner, then at least within a quick drive.
Many states in this part of the country, including all of those that border Pennsylvania, have been quick to approve gambling and construct casinos over the last couple of decades, seeing it as a way to get money flowing into their coffers without the pain of asking taxpayers to contribute more. If you call Washington home, you can satisfy your gambling jones within a few minutes by traveling to The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in nearby North Strabane Township. Want a change of scenery? Then there’s the Rivers Casino, nestled against the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, or the Wheeling Island hotel, racetrack and casino complex, which also sits near the Ohio River, but in West Virginia. In the mood for a more extended journey? Then why not go to the Mountaineer in Chester, W.Va., yet another “racino,” or the soon-to-be-constructed casinos in New Castle or Youngstown, Ohio.
While they don’t yet have the pervasive ubiquity of McDonald’s, Starbucks or Subway, casinos are here, there and pretty much everywhere.
However, the golden geese have lately been laying fewer eggs. Revenue from gambling has been declining in recent months, to the point where one has to ask if gambling has peaked and the bounty it yields to state and local governments might diminish sooner than many imagined.
For evidence, look to the anemic performance of the two-month-old casino at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County. The Observer-Reporter noted Tuesday it has handed pink slips to 15 percent of its employees as a result of its sluggish start. That facility, admittedly, has a steeper hill to climb, since visitors have to pay at least $10 to play there given the nature of its license. But it also has the misfortune to be the 12th casino to open in the Keystone State, just when they’re becoming routine parts of the landscape.
In June, Lucy Dadayan, a senior policy analyst with the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in New York, told USA Today that “the pool of gamblers is only that big and the expansion of casinos and racinos attracts only a smaller pool of new gamblers.” She also noted that gambling has “probably reached the saturation point – not just in the mid-Atlantic region, but in the entire country.”
There’s even the risk that casinos could eventually become money pits for communities, rather than money-spinners. Over the summer, Delaware provided its casinos with an $8 million bailout package after its take dropped by 5.5 percent from 2012, and a bankrupt Atlantic City casino is getting more than $200 million in tax credits to keep it afloat.
And how will casinos fare when online gambling takes off? Will today’s blockbuster casinos crash to earth just like, say, the Blockbuster Video chain did once movies were available through a mouse click?
Any savvy gambler knows that, sooner or later, a lucky streak can run out. Rather than rolling the dice on never-ending growth, our elected officials would be wise to plan for the day when gambling no longer reliably supplies jackpots.