Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It isn't gaming; the word is gambling

By Dick Hirsch

While manufacturing is still on the scrap heap and retailers look toward the holidays with extreme pessimism because of woeful worldwide economic conditions, gambling continues to be the major growth industry around Buffalo.

Let’s review for a minute.

There are 1,200 slot machines at Ft. Erie, 600 video gambling machines at Batavia Downs, and 900 at Fairgrounds Gambling at Buffalo Raceway in Hamburg. Have I left anything out? Oh, yes; in addition there are those 300 or so slot machines in that temporary steel “casino” built by the Seneca Nation near downtown.

That makes the total around 3,000 machines. Is that enough to serve the community properly? Or should we be seeking other opportunities? I hope those questions translate as rhetorical because it should be obvious that we have a sufficient number of gambling devices to satisfy the needs of our declining population, a population which the demographers have repeatedly characterized as among the poorest in the nation.

I understand that the urge to gamble can be irresistible for some individuals. The excitement is undeniable. The slots and related electronic devices beckon with their flashing lights and captivating graphics; they are very enticing. They are especially appealing to women, according to those who specialize in the treatment of gambling addictions. The studies show that women, some retired and living on Social Security, and others in the work force, view the slots as simple to understand, easy to play and a way to beat the odds and be a winner. They’ll often explain you can win as long as you don’t become discouraged and impatient and walk away. The strategy is to keep playing.

If you get the newspaper and pay attention, you can frequently learn about some of the female slot players. The ones you read about are the working women, usually office managers or bookkeepers, trusted women, who are in a position to quietly embezzle from their employers. It can amount to big money by the time they are discovered, fired, arrested, indicted and convicted. Men prefer sports betting; football, basketball, horses, as well as craps when available, but women love the slots. Lights flash and bells ring when someone wins. Word spreads. It’s addictive.

The amazing fact is that I have already identified 3,000 gambling devices in four nearby locations and I have not even mentioned the four full scale casinos, the Seneca Nation operations in Niagara Falls and Salamanca and the two casinos in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Fallsview and Casino Niagara. Among them, according to their web sites, they have over 11,000 slots and similar electronic machines. As I said, it’s a growth business.

I initially believed that the Niagara Falls casinos would be relatively positive additions, attracting more visitors to those tourist cities. I was only half right. It worked out that way in Canada, with the casinos stimulating additional development and sharing significant revenues with the community and the Province of Ontario. It hasn’t worked well in New York, however, where the Seneca Niagara Casino and hotel have had what is generally agreed to be a negative influence on business development.

As a friend, visiting the area, asked after touring on both sides of the Falls: “Why does it look like a neutron bomb hit Niagara Falls, New York?” The truth is that other businesses have a difficult time competing with casinos, especially those that pay no taxes. While “Vegas-like” is a common term used to describe development in Canada, desolation is an apt description of downtown Niagara Falls, New York. There, a development that was promoted as a stimulus, has had just the opposite effect.

I was reviewing the gambling-binge as I sat in my car on South Park Avenue near Michigan, just across from the site of the proposed Buffalo casino and hotel planned by the Senecas. The steel skeletons of the buildings stand there, but all work stopped in the wake of a federal court decision. The girders will be rusting at a faster rate over the winter, with only an occasional watchman to observe. It’s a pathetic sight, considering the money and emotions invested by all concerned. But it’s also reassuring for those who agree there are already enough opportunities within easy reach for those who wish to gamble.

That reminds me of one more thing: no matter what they insist on calling it, the business isn’t gaming, it’s gambling. Gaming is a euphemism, a semantic style designed to sugarcoat an unattractive reality, an attempt to make it more acceptable.


Post a Comment

<< Home