Interview: Rev Thomas Grey

How do you account for the fact there has been an absolutely provable explosion in gambling in this country.

Reverend Thomas Grey heads the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. He was interviewed in the early spring of 1997. Grey: I think it's been made more available, more accessible, government has sanitized it. They dropped the B&L out of gambling and called it gaming. We call that in the Army putting foo-foo dust on something. You take it from one thing and make it another.

Bob Greene, a columnist, wrote a column about the great American give-up. And he said gambling is a symbol. And I felt that gambling is a give-up when government brings it in -- it gives up on us as people to pay our fair share of what we want in terms of taxes. It's a give-up by a business community that says well, let's welcome it in, it's a predatory enterprise but it's going to bring more people, tourism, etc.

And finally, it's a give-up by the people gambling because what it says is we're willing to be made losers of. People go to gamble bringing what they're going to lose. They don't bring money to win.

So, I think it hits because America no longer believes in its future. So, if it doesn't believe in its future then why not worship at the god of chance.

Can you describe that -- as to what has happened to the national character?

Grey: I think the national character is often determined by the the type of story that our leaders tell: political leaders, business leaders, religious leaders. I think our leadership has given up on us. I think America doesn't work and I think it's broken, the connection. The American people are fine. They just need a leadership that says to them, 'you're better than this. You're better than bringing gambling in for economic development.' And my sense is we could be on the cusp of this gambling fight. And what I see is a civic revival of people saying, 'we can't trust government any longer. We can't trust business. We can't even trust our religious leaders that don't see gambling as a great threat.'

You say there's something aberrational about the gambling economy that most people don't get. Explain that....

Grey: Well, it exists solely on separating people from their money. They call them Catch Monerials. You draw a fifty mile radius around the casino. And once you catch them you want to keep them on site. Because as long as they're on site they'll lose money. It's when they move off that location that a person has a chance to say, 'well, gee, is it really fun losing this money?' They start to take stock.

Gambling is the great escape. It is a place that all reality, you escape any pain, any problems, any ambiguities, it's all clear. It's you against fate. Why people think they can beat a computer chip really blows my mind. I'm sort of glad that I'm non-computer literate because I've always figured that if I played poker with seven people that over the course of the night the money would flow around. But I would never play against a machine that I can play thirty hands of poker at in one minute, that is programmed to beat me. That's just hari kari. That's suicide. So I think what we have here is a mind set that is conducive, and the casino owners create the illusion, that this is, as long as you have money, is the greatest thing in the world and it's a great deal of fun and it's a great deal of entertainment.

I want to amplify that because...I took a group of drug addicts in The Grand Casino on a tour in Mississippi, Buloxi. A 19-year-old kid, African American out of Little Rock and he was a recovering crack cocaine addict. I said to them, I just want you to walk in and look at the layout and look at the faces of people and watch what's going on. You're all young. I'm not going to preach to you. About half way through this young man came up to me, and it was in his eyes, he said, 'this is set up like a crack house.' You drop your kids in the child care area, you come up, you've got your entertainment, the western bar, the money machines are there. The illusion is that this is a place where there's no reality other than that I'm going to win some money, the chase and the scent of the action. I really think, it made an impression on me that a young man who was prepared to walk in a casino and have a good time and be entertained by it would draw the analogy very clearly that he had walked into a crack house.

You don't even have to get away from your machine now. It'll take the credit card. You don't have to walk to get money. You don't have to think about whether you can afford to lose the entire paycheck or lose next month's mortgage. It's right there.

When I started out, I was willing to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. I thought, 'hey, they're quick buck artists. They're entrepreneurs.' These are bottom line guys and I'll tell you, the more I see of them, the more dangerous they become. Because they believe, either they believe that they're providing a product that is painless, or they know they've got a product that's creating great pain and they're pitching at that. Now, either one: incompetence of not understanding it or complicity of understanding it.

The snake oil they peddle is economic development, painless revenue source, and entertainment. They don't say, 'but, a lot of you are going to lose your lives. A lot of you are going to lose your homes.' We're saying it's not good economics, it's not good public policy and it's not good for the quality of life.

Now, what I want to say to Mr. Fahrenkopf [American Gaming

Association] -- if you've got a product that is economic development, jobs, jobs, jobs, is painless, and is entertainment, than if the economy is doing better, your product ought to be doing better. But if you're only good as a scavenger, where you can go in and take advantage of people's fears or the fact that they have been left behind, then that makes our point. The point is, that you're selling a product of despair. So you can't have it both ways.

...Understand that this was predatory in nature. It picked up targets of opportunity. If you look at the expansion of gambling in America, Bob Goodwin, a professor, did a study. And you start to look and you analyze. Let's go into New Bedford where the fishing industry was down. Let's go into Mississippi, Gulfport, where Camille came through and devastated and we didn't rebuild. Let's go into a place like Gary, Indiana, the steel industry down. Let's go into Tunica in the Delta. All targets of opportunity where we had allowed. Or Native America reservations where we've denied. So we have no responsibility. Go on the reservation. We want you there but we don't want you to exist in relation to our economies.

So they scavenger picked and they were able to get in and leverage in those types of communities. And it did cost a lot of money. When they started to then compete and try and go into states like Ohio and Florida, then the price of poker went up for these guys because they had to buy communities that were not desperate. I happen to believe that there will not be any more statewide referendums because it will cost them too much money to lose. Everyone that now is a stockholder is going to say, 'can you guarantee me, if it goes on the ballot in California, that you'll win?' I'll tell you. It's not there. The tide has turned. The more information that gets out--and they do their own polling--they know our arguments win election. Not good economics, not good public policy, and not good for the quality of life. Whether you gamble or not is not the question. We find that 60 percent of the people will vote with us. If 8 out of 10 people are gambling, we are taking--understand the power--that we are taking four people who gamble and getting them to vote against that activity. And they're losing from their own base.

I see this as a very healthy fight for America. America has a chance to decide what it wants its future to be. Politically, economically and in relation to one another. And if we can send a message and elect leaders that we say, 'we want to work with you. We'll work on problems'. The thing of saying 'we don't want to be taxed' just allows the gambling predator to come in and say 'tax me, tax me. Just let me eat or take advantage of five percent of your population. And guess what? After I take everything they have, we'll let you take care of them with your taxes.'

See, it's a zero sum game for us. If you don't gamble, you're paying for it. You're paying for the losses of someone. We don't shoot families of compulsive gamblers. We're a society that when someone loses everything we take care of them. So you can't have it both ways. The casino owners take the money, they maximize the profit, and they do nothing to minimize the pain. Because you and I, as citizens, have to take care of that pain.

Now, Mr. Fahrenkopf will say the vast majority of people can gamble without any problem. I'm saying, which five people in my church of 100 was I going to sacrifice? Understand the tradeoff? I'm not willing to sacrifice one because it's not the type of trade we as Americans ought to make to make someone richer. Bottom line is, if you want to make these people rich just send them your paycheck directly. Don't bring a casino in. And they wouldn't get rich because people wouldn't send that paycheck every month to them.

Let's talk about Fahrenkopf again because he just had Arthur Anderson do a very expensive study, hundreds of thousands of dollars, in which they established, they say, that gambling creates jobs. It creates more jobs than many other forms of entertainment.

Grey: Let me give you a class example because Arthur Anderson was used by the gambling industry to come into Chicago in 1992. I have documented, when they came in and introduced the project in 1992 of March, they projected 22,000 jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs, we're going to produce. Resistance started to mount and the next time--it was about a month and a half later--a newspaper story appeared, a press release saying 36,000 jobs were going to be produced. A couple months went by and it was up to 60,000. I won't keep going because there were two other levels. But it ended up 103,000 jobs in November of 1992.

In a six month period we went from 22,000 to 103,000 to meet the mounting opposition. These numbers are absolutely created. Arthur Anderson was paid by the casino people to give a report. Now, in that report is there one item that says how much money it costs for these 5 percent? If we incarcerate people on gambling offense, does that cost us? Did they include that? Unless they include the total cost of their product, you get what you pay for and Frank Farinkoff is going to put a new face on gambling. It's a paid face. He can't hide the bodies and casualties, that's the problem. The embezzlements, the social costs are all there and they're not part of Arthur Anderson's report.

The point is, Money Magazine did a piece in 1996...... It was done five pages and what it said was states with lotteries fund education worse than states without them. Hello, out there America. Every state that's got a lottery, you know what I'm talking about. It was brought in that it was going to help education and your state is in worse shape now. If that's the truth then how can we believe that a government that sold us once isn't going to deal us again.

Who is buying those lottery tickets?

Grey: Well, Harrah's survey would tell you it's the James Bond character that walks in with the blond at the casino and has got all this disposable income. People, walk down to your grocery store on Saturday night when the jackpot is $30-40 million and look who's standing in line. That's the sight test, OK. I don't believe any surveys the gambling companies put out that tell me. James Bond is not standing in line with the blond on his arm, waiting to buy his Quick Pick ticket. Understand, this is preying on those people that can least afford it and citizens know that.

And therefore it makes it a very regressive tax in the end.

Grey: That's a good word for predatory taking advantage of those that can least afford it. Let's say this: People, I don't need people that ought to bring and buy groceries and milk for kids and have money for school supplies ought not to be buying lottery tickets, OK? The fact that I don't buy them and I'm tired of people telling me, well I don't buy them. It's voluntary, let's those people do it. People, we're America. We're in this together. It's all of us. I think that's what America is about, is we are saying let's get back to solutions where we pay our fair share and we take care of those that can least afford it for the sake of those people and children and those families. It doesn't pay us to take people down.

One of the arguments that keeps getting made and one of the things that keeps generating more gambling in various places is the gambling-next-door argument. We're losing money. People in California say 'we're losing $6 billion a year to Las Vegas. We should have gambling here and then we'll have the $6 billion.'

Grey: There are two answers--there are actually three answers. One are very flip, I'll give it: it's a race to the bottom. Or, let's fight fire by throwing more fire. But I think the compelling reason to me is that we have regional economies. Since when in America do we beggar our neighbor? Do you understand? I'm going to take advantage of someone else, another town. The end result is you've got to have gambling in every community. In other words, the reasoning is false. So someplace you say enough is enough. We stop here. I'm saying market yourself against the town that is cannibalizing. Education your citizens that every time they go to that town they're going to lose $50 per visit to the casino. So, it just isn't an inexpensive drive. In fact, it was used in Canada, when I was in Buffalo. They were saying, 'well, what are we going to do? They've opened the Windsor-Ontario casino.' I said, what you're going to do is teach them that the bridges cost $51 to cross. It's going to cost them $51. It's not a dollar, it's $51 because when they get over they know they're going to lose $50. So, just pretty soon a person says, every time I go across this bridge, it's $51, pretty soon they start saying, that's pretty expensive to not get anything.

There's a phenomenon I'd like to get your reaction on. That all of these riverboats and other heartland gambling enterprises I thought would draw action away from Vegas. In fact, it's increased the number of people going to Vegas.

Grey: Of course, it's feeder markets.

Explain that.

Grey: Well, explain the psychology. I mean, you go on the boat, you like that excitement and you're losing. And you've lost your $50. You say, 'but Vegas. I'm going to get more bang for my buck.' The appetite is there. I've been hooked. I want the action. I just don't want to be on a little crummy boat that's a barge built on a moat. And I walk off and I'm in St. Louis. Come on. I want to go where the lights and ambience that's just like the machines. You know the machines have lights and bells. Why do they have lights and bells? To stimulate the senses, to create an ambience of excitement. It's the crack cocaine guy saying this is a cocaine.

So what happens is they knew that all of these were creating a new generation. The Mayo Clinic did a statistic that just opened my eyes very early. The Mayo Clinic and Rochestman saw the average age of the compulsive gambler they were treating in 1970 was between the age of 30 and 55. And that made some sense to me. It took a person awhile to go from the midwest, the heartland, out to Las Vegas and to become compulsive. In 1990 the average age range that they were dealing with were between the ages of 17 and 70. So this predator had now penetrated two age markets: our young and our old and retired people. That's what availability, accessibility, bringing gambling to Main Street has done. It's allowed them to get their hooks in to our young and our old. And once the hooks are in they take them down.

So the feeder market is there. It was a win-win for them. And the fact they could do those riverboats, they didn't have to build pavilions. Put a tent up, put a boat, and in Iowa, when the boats left after a year and sailed the Mississippi where it was a more favorable climate, then government uses the example of saying 'well, we want them to be land based. At least that way they can't sail away.' They stripped the whole mystique that these were really not gambling casinos. These were recreational, with a little gambling on them. In fact, you had to pay to get on the boat. Can you imagine that, pay to get on a boat to lose your money? In Iowa it was $29.95 for dinner and to get on a boat to lose your money. That lasted about a year and then it became free.

Understand, again, this is based on getting a person to spend more than they bring in. You make it easy for them to trace that loss. It's easier to get credit in a casino than it is a bank. Access to money, they'll do anything. Fax for it, get it. And the beauty of the business is, is that once the person taps out, the state then prosecutes and gets the money that they've embezzled or lost and they walk away with the money and we walk away with the problem.

The embezzlement of a million dollars is not rare. Does anyone stop and think, a million dollars is taken out of the economy, it's embezzled. The person that embezzled it, if he doesn't kill himself, which often times happens, will go to prison. And we'll pay for the cell. The casino owner does not give the million dollars back. Does the casino owner do that? Why not? Why could we not bring a legal case against a casino for allowing someone to lose that amount. Can we not check the credit? Can we not understand that a person that is losing a half million dollars might be in over their head? Of course not, because the predator takes the money, sticks us with the bill and laughs all the way to the bank. People, you want to be laughed at? Then let these casino guys operate in your communities.

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