The latest regional craze in the gaming industry is the development of riverboat casinos. Mississippi, which voted to legalize gambling on its waterfront, boasts more than 50 casinos and five major gambling centers. The Mississippi legislature put no license limits on the number of dockside casinos: "These are casinos so new that construction workers must weave through gamblers, so busy that some of these $25 million to $50 million investments can pay for themselves in a matter of months" (Hirshey, 1994, p. 36). Because riverboat casinos are so easy to sell to voters, some analysts predict that Mississippi will soon rival Las Vegas.
The demographics of gambling have changed dramatically since the mid-1970s, when Nevada was the only state with legalized gambling. Previously, casinos were frequented largely by white, middle-class businessmen who could afford the flight to Las Vegas. Today, senior citizens, minorities, teenagers, and other low-income groups gamble regularly, in hopes of elevating their economic status with a quick win. As one casino operator put it, "We target everybody. What's the difference if it's a Social Security check, a welfare check, or a stock dividend check?" (Popkin, 1994, p. 49).
Estimates of the economic impact of gambling vary, depending on which faction is making the assessment. The gaming industry contends that casino gambling benefits local economies by providing economic development, new jobs, and lower taxes. Proponents claim that the recent casino boom will create 500,000 jobs nationwide during the 1990s (Popkin, 1994, p. 43). Opponents of casino construction claim that few economic assessments factor in gambling's hidden costs. A study of Illinois casinos found that the net effect of gambling was one job lost for every gambling job created (U.S. Congress, 1994, p. 9). Further, most casino jobs are in the minimum wage service sector restaurant workers and hotel housekeepers. Tourist-dependent gaming industry employment also tends to be seasonal and particularly sensitive to recessionary factors.
Opponents of legalized gambling claim that the proliferation of casinos and the attraction of the perquisites they offer has led to a marked increase in gambling addiction in the United States. Estimates of the incidence of compulsive gambling range from 3 percent to 5 percent of the adult population in 1994, up from .77 percent in 1976: "Sociologists almost uniformly report that increased gambling activities which are promoted as sociologically 'acceptable' (the acceptability factor) and which are made 'accessible' (the accessibility factor) to larger numbers of people will increase the number of pathological gamblers" (U.S. Congress, 1994, p. 80). In regions with unchecked casino development, concomitant increases have been noted in the number of pawn shops and local chapters of Gambler's Anonymous.
Deadwood's experience is typical of municipalities that get suckered into gambling fever without setting proper regulatory limits.
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