A huge gamble with the lives of the poor

A number of years ago, while working in current affairs
television, I spent one week in Atlantic City and another in Las
Vegas, investigating not gambling but the dodgier aspects of

Both cities, as is well known, are open around the clock,
permanently pretending that whatever the actual hour of the day, it
is night. Ardent gamblers always inhabit an unreal twilight

What struck me about the vision of hundreds of slot machines and
acres of gambling tables was not the level of addiction (all too
easy to spot) but the vast armies of the low-paid, working all
manner of antisocial hours to keep the show on the road.

A walk around the battered neighbourhoods only minutes away from
the kitsch and glitzy hotels signalled that although the casinos
were generating huge profits these were certainly not to the
benefit of the immediate community.

Large US companies are now allegedly waving their fat chequebooks
at Britain’s councils in the hope of winning licences for new
casinos when our gambling laws are liberalised.

The government expects spending to rise on gambling by a massive 45
per cent. It anticipates that £4bn will be spent over the next
five years, boosting tax revenue handsomely.

For every 100 people having a flutter for the first
time, one will become a compulsive gambler.

The industry meanwhile will invest a measly £3m a year into
research into addiction. According to Gamblers Anonymous, for every
100 people who have a flutter for the first time, one will become a
compulsive gambler, risking all.

But challenge government ministers with the downside of this
soon-to-be-reinvigorated sector and the response consists of one
word: regeneration. The gambling industry currently employs
100,000. The government estimates a further 85,000 permanent jobs
will be created in areas of high unemployment.

In a letter to the Guardian, two academics, Ben Wheeler and Jan
Rigby, refer to their research in New Zealand, which shows that
gambling opportunities are overwhelmingly located in poor
neighbourhoods – not least because land, like labour, is

“There is good evidence that deprivation is a risk factor for
developing a gambling habit which can have serious implications for
the gambler and those around,” the pair point out.

Regeneration that produces dead-end jobs and savagely exploits
those who already have nothing to lose, is madness. As Wheeler and
Rigby argue, “There are lots of ways to try to regenerate run-down
areas. Building casinos is not one of them.”

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