Prior to the 19th Century, the word casino was used only to refer to a country house or an Italian villa. Now casino means several separate buildings meant for entertainment and gambling for fun. These indoor activities are provided to consumers in many foreign hotels and shopping arcades to spend leisure time. Some hotels offer better stakes and huge profit avenues to customers during festive seasons. With the progress of technology and the internet, casino and gambling activities are now referred to as virtual casinos.
Sri Lanka is having a struggle to establish casinos on a grand scale now. The lottery and scratch cards that the government introduced to the country some time ago have taken roots firmly. Millions are caught up in this mild gambling, whether they know or not that they are gambling. By spending Rs. Twenty they aim to win billions. The probability of winning the jackpot is so thin that rather it is easier for a person to be struck with lightening twice in his life time. After Jimkhana, we bought sweep tickets, scratched cards and now we are offered casinos on a platter.
Many start gambling as an occasional indulgence but some soon find it to be a terrific addiction. Time and again it has proved that over indulgence in gambling activities could cause psychological disorders. Huge lottery or casino stakes lure more people to try their luck. When the lotteries of Maryland in the USA-Mega or Powerball prize hits 300 million dollars or more, one can see long queues waiting to buy tickets. Addicted gamblers who lose enormous amounts of money will fall in to debt trap and commit heinous crimes to find money to gamble.
Gambling and dishonesty go hand in hand in most cases. The very thought of getting a ticket for a pittance compared to the super huge prize is temptation to get what you have not earned. We have grand generous people and great philanthropists who would want to donate millions to welfare purposes, spend thousands to help ailing parents, give thousands to the poor ONLY if they win the first prize.
Casino activities are closely monitored by close circuit hidden cameras. Casino management doesn’t want fraudulent players to cheat and win. They only want gamblers to lose. This is one-way traffic.
Those who protest against Casinos are not only some Sri Lankans. I have seen many Americans marching holding placards that read – ‘Say No to Casino’, ‘Don’t Ruin Beautiful Life’, ‘No Gambling’, ‘Casinos Ruin Cities - This Is Our City,’ etc. Here in America, Nevada was the only state that allowed casino gambling until 1975, but now you can see casinos in the downtowns of many big cities. What we’ll start in Colombo soon could someday spread to other cities as its participation and popularity grow day by day.
Some cities are reeling under ill effects of casinos. These cities earlier had touted that casinos promote economy by enhancing tourism. We hear this familiar song sung by our Sri Lankan govt. politicians with a sweet melody. When the govt. start taxing the casinos, they in return will start sucking more money from the gambling people.
The great city Detroit in Michigan is facing the casino consequences. Detroit has three casinos and another across the river in Windsor, Canada. Now Detroit is in desperate straits with massive depopulation, job losses, disinvestment and crumbling public services. Casinos sucked the people of all they had.
Pro casino argument is that it will generate jobs, tourism and revenue. This is what our Aiyas say too. Even after many years, when some day another city starts casino, competition begins. In order to halt the people from driving to that city to spend all their money, high stakes and more attractions will be offered. Every serious study that has been done on the economic impacts of casinos shows that costs exceed their benefits and it is a crime to devote precious downtown land for disastrous projects like casinos.
The very famous casino city close to Washington area is in the next state New Jersey. It is Atlantic City. This hub of casinos attracts gamblers from Washington DC, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania. Super luxury buses ply from all big cities to Atlantic City bringing gamblers and those who love slot machines to play ‘just for the fun of it.’ Six years ago, I hopped in to one of those buses that left at 8 a.m. from a Washington suburb being curious to see what’s going on. Fare was USD 38. After nearly 5 hours of travel, our bus stopped under a huge building where many buses had already come from Washington and its suburbs, Baltimore, Norfolk, Pittsburg, Philadelphia and New York. Before we got off, a lady from the casino came in to the bus and gave each of us a USD 20 play ticket and a USD 10 lunch coupon. I have written an article once before also against gambling and I moved up the escalator with our crowd in to one of the casino floors. It looked like heaven with dazzling lights all over. Our people hurried like children to slot machines. I went to all gambling floors. None looked at me except some security guys in plain cloth. All eyes focused to the screens. I came out and walked to the nearby beach and then went on window shopping. At 6 in the evening I returned to our waiting bus and asked some passengers if they won anything. None of them! Some have lost USD 300, 500, 800 and some more than USD 1000. Anyway they looked cheerful. Seemingly a free bus ride for them and casinos collect about USD 5,000 from each bus daily. Atlantic City has 11 massive casino complexes run by different companies. Every complex has its own play floors, hotels and restaurants.
Las Vegas attracts country and foreign tourists but most casinos attract only locals. Casinos will never have a notable impact on tourist arrivals because out of them only a few who are gamblers. It is an insult to treat all tourists as gamblers. Therefore casinos will never be a carrot to tourists. With no casinos, tourists will spend their money on other entertainment options in and out of the city.
Author of Religious Pickle and Mother Mary