NATIONAL GAMBLING IMPACT STUDY COMMISSION
N G I S C Chicago Meeting, May 21, 1998
MR. SMITH: Members of the Commission, thank you for this opportunity to discuss the social impact of riverboat casino gambling in the state of Indiana. I'm Bill Smith, Executive Director of Indiana Family Institute.
Unlike many midwestern states, riverboat casinos are a relatively new form of gambling in Indiana. Ten riverboat licenses have been created by the State Gaming Commission, allowing for casinos along the Ohio River in Southern Indiana and on Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana. The first riverboat casino opened in December of 1995 in Evansville.
Despite the short data collection period available to us, enough troubling trends have surfaced to cause Governor Frank O'Bannon to appoint a commission to study the consequences of gambling in Indiana. In another effort to study the social cost of gambling, the Indiana State Department of Mental Health has just commissioned Louisiana State University to investigate and report upon the increasing concerns over addictions and family breakdown.
It's not necessary, however, for us to wait for these reports and studies to be completed to determine whether Hoosier families are paying a high price for the privilege to gamble. According to the 1998 State of the Industry report, gaming estimates for Indiana riverboats will reach $1.5 billion by the year 2000. The report found that the most frequent gamblers in Indiana are in Vanderburg County, the home of the riverboat casino Astar. The report estimates that 51 percent of Evansville area residents visit the casino each year, with the average person attending 18 times each year. Even before casino Astar opened, Evansville therapists and mental health agencies began gearing up for the increase in addictions to gambling.
As a result of expert predictions that between three and six percent of the entire population of Vanderburg County would develop compulsive gambling habits, the Southern Indiana Mental Health Center's addiction treatment center trained 20 therapists to become certified compulsive gambling counselors.
Just 22 months after casino Astar opened, Ladies Home Journal listed the divorce rate in Evansville, Indiana as the third highest in the nation, behind Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada. The magazine gave no reason for this unexpectedly high divorce rate, but we do know from other studies that gambling addiction and debts play a prominent role in increased divorce rates. In fact, a 1995 survey of compulsive gamblers here in Illinois found that 26 percent were divorced or separated due to gambling problems.
When we consider that approximately 75 percent of divorces involve minor children, we begin to see a clear picture of gambling's impact on families. Recent reports from the Evansville Courier found an increase in gambling related bankruptcies. In Northwest Indiana, the other area for Indiana riverboats, the Times of Munster, Indiana reported that up to 18 percent of bankruptcies around Lake County are linked to gambling.
Again, even before Governor O'Bannon's commission releases its report, it is easy to see how these financial pressures and behavioral problems lead to the breakdown of families in our state. That there is a high cost to society is not even debated in most circles in Indiana. The question to be answered relates to the extent of the damage, not whether it exists. Even Joe Cole, Vice President of Corporate Communications for the casino Astar said the riverboat would be making donations to Evansville social service agencies to assist with the problem of gambling addictions.
It is evident from these actions that the gaming industry in Indiana and our state government already know that there is a destructive side to gambling. At this time in our state, the stories, the anecdotes, the reports of increased bankruptcy, divorce, suicide and hurt children will have to suffice until we calculate the numbers and are able to fully quantify the impact of gambling on the families of our state. Thank you.