Praising 2,300 new casino jobs overlooks the
fact that this area doesn't have 2,300 more casino employees.
The casinos are literally going to the ends of the globe now to get
The Region's Gambling Addiction: More, More, More ...
By JEFF BENEDICT
Published on 2/13/2005
Foxwoods is the world's biggest gambling complex, with
320,000-sqare feet of gambling space. But when greed goes unchecked,
even biggest isn't big enough. Last week the casino's tribal officials
announced a massive $700 million expansion that will add two million
square feet to the facility. No doubt Mohegan Sun will soon counter
with its next expansion plan.
Two things are clear: With each expansion, the casinos
increase their economic and political dominance, and the region's
economy is becoming increasingly dependent on the gambling industry.
Despite far-reaching policy implications these trends will have on
labor, business, housing, public education and public health, no one is
asking the essential policy question: "Where will it lead?"
Mimicking lines fed to them by their financial analysts,
both tribes say they're expanding to "capture more market share."
That's casino speak for capturing more prospective gamblers.
None of this is surprising. Casinos never get smaller.
What's surprising is that some spokesmen for business and commerce
groups laud casino expansion news as "good." Are they paying attention
to the rest of the news flowing from the two casinos these days?
Foxwoods announced plans to add nearly 2,000 slot machines
the day after Stonington's finance accountant
Allen went to prison for stealing from her employer to support her
addiction to slots. The flood of slot machines into this region has
given rise to a new class of improbable criminals "middle-age women,
married with children, gainfully employed, with no criminal history"
now residing in taxpayer-funded cells.
White collar crime, bankruptcy,
property foreclosure, extinguished pension funds, and divorce
are hidden costs borne by communities nearest casinos. But the spin on
the latest casino expansion cleverly deflects focus from the ugly
social costs by pushing "job creation."
The Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce and the
Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) have endorsed the
Foxwoods expansion. "Anything that can be done to add jobs to the
Connecticut economy has to be looked at as a very positive
development,"a CBIA economist told The Day.
When an economist says "anything" is "very positive
development," it's time to question how low the bar has been set for
this region. On a bigger scale, as the state's self-proclaimed largest
business organization headquartered in Hartford, has CBIA done any
in-depth analysis on the impact that the new 200,000-foot convention
center and 825-room hotel at Foxwoods will have on the viability of
Adriaen's Landing, a heavily
tax-subsidized convention center intended to revitalize Hartford's
Chamber president Tony Sheridan insisted: "We have to look
at the bigger picture here. People have to have decent jobs, and
Foxwoods provides them."
I don't know how Sheridan defines big picture and decent.
But he'll get vertigo if he looks at the dizzying strains being placed
on municipal governments by the casinos. Start with labor. Praising
2,300 new casino jobs overlooks the fact that this area doesn't have
2,300 more casino employees. The casinos are literally going to the
ends of the globe now to recruit help. They wouldn't be importing their
labor force if this area's labor pool was sufficient.
The heavy influx of casino workers is a primary force behind
the region's affordable housing shortage. There's a reason condo owners
are being cited for illegally converting garage space into bedrooms and
bathrooms. Too many new casino employees plus too few rental properties
equals budget problems for some area schools. As reported this week,
one Norwich school now has 36 percent of its students with a parent
employed at the casino, while 25 percent of the students don't speak
English as a primary language and 71 percent of the students require
free or reduced meals.
At so many levels, children pay a bitter price when casinos
flourish. While teachers and education officials scrounge to provide
essential services, the problem will get worse. One primary source for
the casinos' constant need to recruit more workers is the casinos'
unusually high turnover rate among employees.
Never mind that casino workers are forbidden to unionize;
not covered by state or federal labor laws; and that disputes over
salary or worker's compensation payments have to be taken to the tribal
courts. This only begins to explain job turnover rate.
Consider Connecticut's recent legislation to ban smoking in
bars and other public workplaces. Correctly, this legislation is
premised on the fact that second-hand smoke poses a serious health risk
A recent letter I received from a Mohegan Sun worker sums up
how casino employees feel. "As a dealer I feel that the state is
treating us like second-class citizens. The law is hypocritical. It was
put into effect to protect employees exposed to second-hand smoke.
Nowhere is the secondhand smoke worse than at a blackjack table. That
[slot revenue] is obviously more important than the health of some
20,000 casino employees."
I often hear from casino employees. All want help. None
dares go public. Why? "I'm writing to you because I thought you'd be
able to mention my concern, the concern of thousands of casino
employees when you meet with our legislators," the dealer wrote. "We
are afraid to do anything ourselves because we fear repercussions from
Obviously casinos aren't the only culprits behind the
region's transportation, labor, affordable housing and schools funding
needs. But they are the elephants in the room. Yet no one dares say
this because the casinos are also the 10,000-pound guerillas in
Hartford, their political muscles juiced up by $400 million in slot
Powered by slots, the casinos are teaching people to kneel.
And I'm not referring to new gambling addicts. I'm taking about those
addicted to the proceeds coming from the slots and those too
intimidated to speak truth to power.
Local officials may not be able to prevent casino expansion.
But they need not be so eager to jump on board the endorsement train.
Those who do run the risk of sounding like the pilot who told
passengers: "The good news is that we're making good time. The bad news
is that due to an equipment failure we're not sure we're headed in the
The equipment failure here is a lack of information; we
don't know the immediate and long-term price for receiving $400 million
a year in slot revenues. Warning: this money not only has strings, it
Before any more industry experts and legislators start
bowing to the casinos as the area's economic saviors, we'd be wise to
ask a policy question: "Where does it lead?"
Jeff Benedict is an investigative journalist and lawyer.
He is the author of the book, "Without
Reservation," about the evolution of the Foxwoods casino. He lives
in East Lyme.