I was struck by the utter illogic and shortsightness — no, more correctly, lack of both hindsight and foresight exhibited by many of the officials quoted in your article "Gambling addiction treatment goes unfunded". What struck me most was that the issue of compulsive gambling is being addressed in a vacuum, wholly unassociated with the other ills, problems and detractors inherent in the very gambling industry.
Maybe I'm an idiot, but the continued as well as original logic of having and now inviting more casinos, which by definition will increase the growth of a serious personal and social malady of compulsive gambling, escapes me. Maybe that's because there was no logic to begin with.
Let's see if I get the premises in the referenced article correct:
1. Compulsive gambling is on the rise in the USVI, specifically St. Croix.
2. The problem was anticipated and is serious enough to warrant a funding set-aside by the industry from which this malady originates.
3. The problem, compulsive gambling (that was anticipated), is serious enough that in order for someone afflicted by it to recover, substantial and protracted outside and often residential intervention is required.
Let's look at some of the facts and statistics about the personal, social and economic impacts of gambling. The National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (NCALG) reports the following:
1. Casinos and lotteries survive on problem and pathological gamblers. University of Illinois economist Earl L. Grinols has calculated that 52 percent of casino revenues come from active problem and pathological gamblers. Also, statistics show that 5 percent of the people who buy lottery tickets account for 50 percent of lottery sales, and 20 percent of lottery players account for 80 percent of lottery sales. [WEFA Group, "A Study Concerning the Effects of Legalized Gambling on the Citizens of the State of Connecticut," prepared for the State of Connecticut, Department of Revenue Services, Division of Special Revenue, June 1997, pp. 8-3]
2. "…2 percent of gamblers account for 63 percent of all the money legally wagered …" [D.J. Tice, "Big Spenders," St. Paul Pioneer Press (Special Reprint Section), February 1993]
3. The total number of crimes within a 30-mile radius of Atlantic City increased by 107 percent in the nine years following the introduction of casinos to the area. [Andrew J. Buck, Simon Hakim and Uriel Spiegel, "Casinos, Crime and Real Estate Values: Do they Relate?" Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, August 1991, p. 295]
4. Gambling takes money away from other local businesses. In Atlantic City, the number of independent restaurants dropped from 48 the year casinos opened to 16 in 1997.
5. While most of the money spent in casinos in Las Vegas comes from tourism, these figures are not duplicated across the country. Most gamblers in the casinos across the country are attracting mainly local residents to their doors.
6. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) was established by Congress in 1996 and released its official reports three years later. See the NGISC Web site, last revised in August 1999. Here you'll find the final report as well as research data and periodic reports of the commission. NGISC recommended a national moratorium of the expansion of gambling and more study of the costs, benefits and effects of gambling.
7. Economists Earl L. Grinols and David B. Mustard, using an econometric cost-benefit analysis, found that "the costs of casinos are at least 1.9 times greater than the benefits." In other words, a dollar's worth of casino profits and other social benefits costs taxpayers at least $1.90 in "cost-creating activities such as crime, suicide and bankruptcy" and in the expensive social problems engendered by problem and pathological gamblers.
A lack of horse sense and worse
What we have, in fact, is a clearly observable instance of attempting to "close the barn door after the horse is out," made even more ridiculous as we knew that, at the very least, once the proverbial horse was out, it would get sick. For those on whom the horse metaphor is lost, in other words: We knew that legalized gambling would result at least in a population of compulsive gamblers, so we planned this 2 percent of receipts industry-funded mandate, and now we're concerned about the how to deal with compulsive gamblers. As the saying goes, "You must be kidding me?"
The statistics from NCALG above are detrimental enough to a community by themselves. But overlaying all of these problems or detractors on the USVI, especially St. Croix, has got to be the most egregious instance of non-existent leadership in the annals of the poorly led V.I.
That so-called leaders would subject a community to an industry ostensibly initiated to attract more tourist that statistically depends on the local population (points Nos. 1 and 2), statistically increases crime (No. 3), decreases intra-community commerce (No. 4), fails to attract the very tourists the industry was alleged to attract (No. 5), that a congressional commission has called for a moratorium on (No. 6), and that economist have found to cost rather that benefit the community (No. 7) is tantamount to criminal negligence.
The rather poor excuse that compulsive gambling was present prior to the arrival of the Divi Casino does not speak at all to the fact, as stated in the very opening sentence of the referenced article, that "…gambling addiction [is] an increasingly visible problem …" What's being said here? Well, we had this sickness and we knew that inviting this sick guest to our home would make many more of us sick. So let's invite the sick visitor and hope we can control the spread of the disease! And, oh, by the way, once we really get the sickness going, let's invite some more of these sick visitors to get the party going even more! This has got to be madness at its highest practice.
Perhaps more people should read Rich Waugh's excellent article "St. Croix does need a reality check, plus". I would expand Mr. Waugh's sentiments about the ferry to the casino industry. Okay! So I've stated the problem. What's a solution, an alternative that's sustainable? Again I turn to Mr. Waugh's excellent piece, in which he states, "…There are tens of thousands of people who would love to discover a Caribbean island where they can have a beach virtually to themselves, where they can stroll through town without stumbling over hawkers and hustlers, where they can take a walk in the 'bush' and see historic ruins. There are thousands and thousands more who would come for the history alone. And untold numbers of scuba divers who have no idea that fantastic wall dives are only a brief swim from the beach rather than a time-consuming and expensive boat ride. Yes, St. Croix certainly has the resources to offer…"
Let the statistics speak
Well, Mr. Davis, have you any facts to back this up? Well, as a matter of fact I do. The International Ecotourism Society in its "Ecotourism Fact Sheet 2000" stated:
1. The World Tourism Organization estimates that there were more than 663 million international travelers in 1999, spending more than $453 billion. Tourist arrivals are predicted to grow by an average 4.1 percent a year over the next two decades, surpassing a total of one billion international travelers by the year 2010 and reaching 1.6 billion by the year 2020.
2. Experienced ecotourists were willing to spend more than general tourists, the largest group (26 percent) stating they were prepared to spend $1,001 to $1,500 per trip.
Belize, the closest geographical area to the V.I. cited, the WTO found that in 1999 49.4 percent of 172,292 tourists visited Mayan sites, and 12.8 percent visited parks and reserves. Important reasons given for visiting Belize are to observe scenic beauty, to be in a natural setting and to observe wildlife. Cays and barrier reefs were visited by 87 percent of visitors.
The last time I researched this topic, which was in 1994 just prior to the great mistake of legalizing gambling and inviting Divi Carina Bay to St Croix, casino gambling was listed 16th of the top 25 diversions attracting tourist for the U.S. domestic tourist industry. The top 15 tourist-attracting recreation activities shared 75 percent of the dollars spent by travelers away from home, while activities listed in positions 16-25 shared the remaining 25 percent of receipts.
St. Croix does need a reality check. With the entire clamor about increasing crime, social instability, and systemic public and private corruption, God knows St. Croix needs no more problems to add to the list, least of all a burgeoning population of gambling addicts. What St. Croix and her people need is responsible, visionary leadership that will identify and implement sustainable, low-impacting industries that take advantage of and enhance the natural and inherent resources of the island and all of her people.
And, by the way, casino gambling ain't one of them!
Editor's note: Lloyd A. Davis, who grew up on St. Croix, graduating from St. Joseph's High School in 1976, now resides in Fort Washington, Maryland, where he is a program controlanaylist with Unisys Federal Systems' IRS Modernization Program
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