In March of 2015 state Rep. Ron Stephens (R- Savannah) introduced legislation that would allow six casinos into Georgia’s borders. While the legislation did not gain traction in the 2015 session, there is a renewed and aggressive effort by casino interests to bring gambling to Georgia through a ballot – by changing the Georgia State Constitution, which currently bars nearly all gambling.
Some believe that by having its own casinos Georgia will recover money currently going out of state. They also project that 3,500 jobs will be created and significant new revenue will be provided for the HOPE scholarship. At face value, this seems like a win-win for Georgia; however, the economic costs that accompany gambling will do more harm than the new jobs and HOPE funding will do good.
Gambling addictions create problems for individuals, their families and, by extension, society at large. Many people in Georgia are already being affected by the economic and social challenges that are brought on with gambling. With several casinos within driving distance, many have chosen to go out of state to gamble with their money. Some have returned to Georgia with a gambling addiction. According to the Georgia Council on Problem Gambling, “The hidden social and economic costs of gambling addiction in Georgia is $1,200 annually per gambler, while problem gambling costs the state $715 per gambler. Total costs: over $357 million annually.” This is the price tag on gambling already plaguing the state and that’s before Georgia even has its own casinos.
Bankruptcy is common among gambling addicts, with a national average of 20-30 percent of addicts filing for bankruptcy. According to the National Bankruptcy Research Center in July of 2013, Georgia had the second highest amount of people filing for bankruptcy. By allowing casinos to come into the state, more people will fall victim to a gambling addiction, which will increase their odds of filing for bankruptcy. The Georgia Council on Problem Gambling found that each bankruptcy filing costs creditors an average $39,000.
The impact to families of problem gambling can be catastrophic. Approximately 90 percent of pathological gamblers use family savings to continue their addiction. The Georgia Council on Problem Gambling found “over 60 percent of pathological gamblers reported borrowing money from friends/relatives to avoid credit problems; while 20 percent borrowed money from loan sharks.” Money problems are notorious for adding stress to families; gambling addiction magnifies and exacerbates this source of conflict in families. Not surprising, then, is the fact that families face a greater risk of suffering from a divorce when one of the spouses has a gambling addiction. While non-gamblers have a divorce rate of 18.2 percent, the divorce rate for pathological gamblers is a staggering 53.5 percent.
While the promises of jobs and HOPE scholarship funding sound appealing, the costs of bringing casinos to Georgia – in terms of the human suffering they will cause – far outweigh any potential benefit they will have.