Richard McGowan, (here) a professor of economics at Boston College, takes a more circumspect view of the proposed VLT casino. McGowan, who is also a Jesuit priest, says the overall economic impact of a casino is “generally positive.” The biggest obstacle is promoters promising too much of an economic payoff. Casinos are not the solution to an ailing economy, but they do produce revenue for the state.
“Atlanta’s a pretty big convention town, so they’re probably saying this will attract more conventioneers,” he says. “And to be a successful gambling operation, you don’t want your own people gambling. You don’t want locals there. You want outsiders. If you have a lot of locals, you’re going to be cannibalizing your own local economy, because they’re spending money at the casino that would otherwise go into other types of local businesses.”
McGowan, author of 2008’s “The Gambling Debate,” has looked at the economic multiplier effect of casinos—how many jobs and how much revenue they spin off indirectly—as well as their ability to attract money from out of town. With that in mind, he makes a pronouncement about Atlanta: “I don’t think you’re going to get more conventions because you have gambling.”
Why not? Because lots of places have gambling now. In fact, only two states, Utah and Hawaii, have no form of legalized gambling. According to StopPredatoryGambling.org, there are about 900 casinos spread across America.
McGowan balks at saying VLTs are more addictive than any other kind of gambling. ( “If you’re addicted to gambling, you’re addicted to gambling,” he says.) He also notes that the odds of winning at VLTs is considerably better than the odds of winning the Georgia Lottery.
And he shrugs off the shop-of-horrors predictions of doom associated with casinos. Instead, he cautions that communities should know what they’re getting into. States tend to actively compete with neighboring states for gamblers. He points to Alabama and North Carolina’s casinos.
“If Georgia does this,” he says. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the neighboring states up the ante, if you’ll pardon the pun.”