NATIONAL GAMBLING IMPACT STUDY COMMISSION
MR. BATTISTO: Yes. I'm State Representative Joe Battisto, and I thank the Commission for giving me the opportunity to testify on the issue of gambling.
My involvement with the issue of gambling began in 1977. Then Nevada and New Jersey were the only states where casino gambling had been legalized. However, knowing that Pennsylvania would feel the effects of casino gambling in New Jersey, I decided to undertake a study of the issue of gambling to ascertain how it would impact on Pennsylvanians.
It's important for you to know that I had neither favored nor opposed gambling. Therefore, my personal study was undertaken to gather information to help me develop a position on this issue.
From my study I drew two conclusions. First, I concluded that using gambling as an economic development tool is not sound policy because the introduction of gambling does not have a positive pervasive effect on the economy. In fact, as Professor Goodman said in his book The Luck Business, casino type gambling has a cannibalizing effect on the local economy in areas ranging from Atlantic City to Natchez.
Moreover, Richard Siren, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, considers gambling expenditures as money diverted from other consumer spending. "You're just taking money from one area and putting it somewhere else," says Mr. Siren.
Also I found in my study that soon after gambling is legalized in an area, social ills are exacerbated. Over the years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives I have not changed my focus. I have continued to emphasize the two conclusions I have drawn from my study of gambling: that gambling should not be considered as a worthwhile economic development tool and, two, that gambling produces costly social problems that outweigh any tax benefits derived from gambling activities.
Furthermore, I have found the more people take their time to study gambling, the more people reject gambling as an economic development tool. The problem is it has been difficult to obtain objective research about the real economic and social costs and benefits of legalizing gambling. In fact, Professor Goodman found that much of the research used by policy makers was prepared by industry related consultants to support positions of officials who already favored gambling.
As I stressed the importance of an objective study of this issue, let me relate to you an experience I had in the Pennsylvania House in the spring of 1977 as the House was debating an amendment on slot machines. Representative Mark Cohen from Philadelphia, who had previously supported gambling bills, rose to speak against the amendment to ban gambling. At first I was stunned, but as Representative Cohen explained his position, it became clear to me that his personal study gradually led him to change his position from a proponent to an opponent of gambling.
Truly an objective study of gambling allows one to see beneath the promise of casino jobs by weighing these against the losses in other sectors of the economy and against the social costs produced by problem gamblers.
As Attorney General Curran of Maryland said, the state should not adopt public policy which will increase crime and exacerbate other social ills, and neither should the nation.