Indiana Has Enough Slot Machines Already
Indiana Writers Group column for Jan. 24 and thereafter
By Andrea Neal
FRENCH LICK, Ind. — When I walked on to the gaming floor at French Lick – my first time ever in a casino – I was struck immediately by the number of slot machines. There were hundreds of them, in all directions, and they so consumed the 42,000-square-foot room that I barely noticed the craps games, the poker tables or the roulette wheels.
Like any sucker who’s just been born, I was drawn to the bank of machines with a stunning red sports car on top and sat down in pursuit of that enticing jackpot. To my surprise, when I made money (I cleared about $40 on my first sitting), I heard the sounds of a pinball machine, not the clanking of coins I expected from TV portrayals of Las Vegas. A paper invoice has replaced coins as prize money in the computer age.
I then tried my hand at blackjack and lost my slot machine profits in no time. So I watched other patrons sitting at slot machines with deadpan looks on their faces, some playing two machines at a time in order, I suppose, to double their chances of winning.
We all know better, of course. Whatever form gambling takes – slot machines, Texas Hold‘Em, lotteries, thoroughbred racing – gamblers lose more than they win. Were it otherwise, lotteries would not be state revenue producers and casinos would go out of business.
“Gambling is a game of some luck, a little larceny and a lot of losers,” states the Encyclopedia Britannica. Yet for reasons that are well intended, state policymakers continue to push us to lose our money on this highly addictive form of entertainment. The 2007 General Assembly should say: Enough is enough.
One good thing about French Lick is that it’s not easy to get there. You have to plan a trip, which means giving at least some thought to personal finances before you go.
In contrast, lawmakers want to add slot machines to tempt people who would not otherwise be playing them. House Bill 1441 would allow slot machines at the state’s two pari-mutuel tracks in Shelby and Madison counties, Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park. The bill’s main sponsor is Scott Reske, D-Pendleton, joined by Reps. Terri Austin, D-Anderson; Jack Lutz, R-Anderson; and Eric Gutwein. R-Rensselaer.
House Bill 1401, co-sponsored by Reske and Austin, would also allow slot machines at the two off-track betting parlors in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. The idea, Reske said, is to bolster revenues and keep the struggling horse tracks in business.
“The racing industry is the only gaming industry that actually puts money back into a tangible industry: agriculture. It keeps the money here,” Reske said. “The riverboats are entertainment, which is not tangible, and most of them are not Indiana-owned.” He correctly points out that the state’s constitutional ban on lotteries was lifted to allow for development of a horseracing industry like Kentucky’s. Instead, Indiana became Casino Central, which no doubt severely hurts attendance at the tracks.
But that’s ancient history. If we have to prop up the horse tracks by exploiting more Hoosiers, it’s not worth doing. Here’s what people need to know about slots:
• Originally installed as a diversion for casual players, they have become the major source of casino revenue, ranging from 60 to 80 percent of profits.
• According to a 2002 study, slot machines are the most damaging and quickly addicting
form of gambling. They have been called the cocaine of gaming.
• People with a propensity for compulsive gambling generally get addicted to slots in less than a year. It takes more than twice that long for people to become addicted to scratch-off lottery games and more than three times as long to get hooked on table games.
If Hoosiers want to play slots, they’ve got 10 casinos from which to choose. If they want to bet on horses, they can go to one of our two racetracks or off-track parlors. If they just want to waste money, they can buy a state lottery ticket. If any of these gambling businesses fail, they should be allowed to go out of business without state action.
Speaking of the lottery, critics of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ plan to privatize the Hoosier Lottery and help fund higher education with the proceeds say it would inevitably lead to an expansion of gambling in Indiana. That’s a topic for the next column.
Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.