Legislative changes need facts

Apr 24, 2007 2:29 AM

(In jurisdictions such as Colorado and Missouri, where casino gambling is limited, state legislatures are currently reviewing proposed rule changes that could alter how much money people are allowed to wager. The first part of this two-part article reveals truths about some of gaming’s harshest critics, while next week’s final segment examines some of the specific claims being made in support of changing current guidelines.)

Remember the childhood tales of Chicken "The Sky is Falling" Little and The Boy Who Cried Wolf? Since this is a free country and consequently everyone is entitled to their respective opinions, I do not begrudge the doomsday prophesizing anti-gambling coalitions. In fact, some of their brethren have valid points of criticism concerning the gaming industry.

However, unsubstantiated or indefensible claims have unfortunately become de rigueur with a relatively small but vocal collection of gaming neo-prohibitionists.

Alleged academicians lending their name and associated credibility to "the cause" are some of the worst offenders. The latest to hit the national scene is Robert Goodman, author of The Luck Business and pivotal figure in the anti-legalized gambling movement.

"Goodman is certainly not a researcher or an economist," says William Eadington, an economist who directs the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno. "He’s a compiler, and very much a journalist."

Goodman’s work is "not based on accepted economic theory," adds economist Gabrielle Brenner of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales in Montreal. "He doesn’t seem to understand the most basic principles of consumer economics."

Writing in the Journal of Macromarketing, David Rados of Vanderbilt University described The Luck Business as "a Halloween book, one that aims to frighten the reader but is marred by one-sided and incomplete arguments that will convince only the credulous."

Experts in the field of gambling studies also note Goodman’s failure to publish in peer-reviewed journals or appear at academic meetings.

Richard McGowan, a professor of economics at Boston College and a Jesuit priest, calls Goodman an "anti-gambling ideologue" who poses interesting questions about the societal impact of gambling but whose conclusions are based solely on personal bias.

Goodman’s work on gambling is case-oriented, which is a far cry from traditional economic analysis, McGowan explains. Modern economists who wish to study the economic impact of some phenomenon typically employ sophisticated quantitative methods, such as time-series analysis, regression analysis, and various types of formal modeling.

In contrast, Goodman’s method consists of selecting individual cases that confirm what he already believes and then drawing from them a set of predetermined conclusions. McGowan dismisses Goodman’s approach as "methodologically unsound."

Goodman’s questionable use of statistics is nowhere more evident than in The Luck Business’s discussion of "problem gamblers," a group he says comprises "between 1.5 to 6.5 percent of the adult population."

The notion that so-called problem gambling is sweeping the country as legal gambling becomes more accessible is perhaps the most potent weapon of those who deplore gambling’s "social costs," which, says Goodman, include suicide, divorce, job loss, and "white-collar crime."

But Goodman at no time endeavors to define "problem gambling" in The Luck Business. That makes it somewhat difficult to accept his work as credible.

Members of the anti-gambling cartels, if you want to be a force of influence, get the facts straight! Legislators make decisions using only verifiable data, not unverifiable and emotive tales of horror.

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