Meetings & Information


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Casinos and homelessness are linked

One of many, many stories of how gambling increases homelessness.

Casinos and homelessness are linked


“Well I got a job and tried to put my money away
But I got debts that no honest man can pay
So I drew what I had from the Central Trust
And I bought us two tickets on that Coast City bus”

- Bruce Springsteen, Atlantic City

In the wake of a random double murder in Atlantic City allegedly by a troubled woman from Philadelphia, The Inquirer attempts to examine why so many homeless and unstable people roam the struggling seaside town.

The piece never nails down the exact reason but quotes the head of an Atlantic City shelter claiming that surrounding agencies regularly “dump” people in Atlantic City without referrals or treatment plans, or county reimbursements. William Southrey, president of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, said social service agencies funnel folks on buses to Atlantic City’s shelters, soup kitchens, and recovery programs. He quipped that it is “Greyhound therapy.” (Southrey gave the same quip last year in this piece about the homeless.)

That may be true, but it is not the full story. Studies show the presence of casinos play a role in the increase in homelessness. The Inquirer piece does not delve into this area. But several of the homeless people quoted talk about gambling, including one who claims to have won $8,000 in a casino. Brenda Spencer, 54, another homeless person made it clear why she was in Atlantic City: “I came here to gamble.”

What the story fails to report is that a large chunk of the homeless in Atlantic City are problem gamblers. This 1985 AP report references a study that found half of Atlantic City’s homeless came to town after the casinos opened seeking to get rich quick. A 2003 survey of 120 homeless living in Southrey’s Rescue Mission found that 20 percent listed gambling as a contributing factor to their plight. Indeed, the Mission’s own website says the arrival of casinos led to an increase in homeless in Atlantic City.

The 1999 National Gambling Impact Study Commission, considered the definitive national study on gambling in America, found that “individuals with gambling problems seem to constitute a higher percentage of the homeless population.” The commission said the Atlantic City Rescue Mission reported that 22 percent of its clients are homeless due to a gambling problem. In a survey of 1,100 clients at Rescue Missions nationwide, 18 percent cited gambling as a cause of their homelessness. Interviews with more than 7,000 homeless individuals in Las Vegas revealed that 20 percent reported a gambling problem.

So clearly, there is a direct link to casinos and homelessness. That seems like a detail other communities and lawmakers should keep in mind when considering whether or not to legalize casinos. In short, some of today’s gamblers lining state coffers eventually end up on the street, costing taxpayers money in long-term care and feeding later.

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