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Gambling and the Mahoning Valley don’t look like a very good fit

Published: Sun, April 3, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

To its credit, the Kasich Ad- ministration seems a good bit less gung-ho on gambling than certain local Democratic figures.

For example, I read that Atty. Gen. Mike DeWine supports legislation that would make it more difficult for gaming parlors featuring sweepstakes amusement games to stay in business. The same news story said that Boardman has granted zoning approval for an Internet caf to operate on Boardman-Canfield Road that would feature 50 gaming terminals, and that Austintown has six such cafes.

To me, one of the most interesting statements in the same story was made by Austintown Zoning Inspector Darren Crivelli who said that he welcomes the legislation cited by DeWine as it would make it easier to determine if the machines in question are “really sweepstakes and not slot machines” (which are illegal).

Not long before the article cited above appeared, we read that State Sen. Joe Schiavoni and state Rep. Ronald Gerberry said they were disappointed that Gov. John Kasich’s recently announced budget didn’t include having video slot machines at the state’s seven racetracks, with Schiavoni adding that he’d like the Legislature to give the green light to slot machines.

The legalization of slot machines has been cited as crucial to the relocation of a harness racing track from Toledo to Austintown.

I hardly think that having a gambling emporium featuring banks of slot machines is what the Mahoning Valley needs. Youngstown has seen a precipitous drop in its population, and the 17th Congressional District was cited in a New York Times map as among the districts nationwide where the people are the worst off.

It seems to me that playing slot machines must attract people with very limited financial resources (why would anyone otherwise bother with such a mind-deadening, enervating activity), that such a pursuit therefore skims the financial resources of those who can least afford it.

One might also question what the presence of a seemingly “easy money” gambling emporium might have on inner-city Youngstown, already plagued as it is with crime linked to drugs, poverty and joblessness.

Of course, we do already have gambling casinos not far from Youngstown, and regularly published figures do show how the public is being financially skimmed at one of these.

The weekly slots revenue at Presque Isle Downs & Casino (which boasts of having more than 2,000 slots) regularly runs about $42 million (although it can run much higher in the summer). Of this $42 million, slot players recoup about $38 million, and promotional free plays account for about $1 million. The amount the slot players lose, about $3 million, is evenly divided between the state (Pennsylvania) and the casino, which now also offers table games.

Thus the casino magnates skim well over $1 million a week from Erie residents who can afford it the least, plus tourists.

One wonders how much cash needy Pennsylvanians are wasting on a ridiculous pastime of playing slot machines in the state’s 10 casinos, and if the same fate is in store for Ohioans.

Robert R. Stanger, Boardman


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