|By Brian Lockhart, Connecticut Post,
BridgeportMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 16, 2009--When Paul Young, head of the state's Division of Special Revenue, several months ago commissioned the first study in a decade of gambling's effects on Connecticut, he said he wanted to gauge "the good, the bad and the ugly" of the industry.
And that's what Young got.
The just-released 390-page, $700,000 analysis by The Spectrum Gaming Group of New Jersey, concluded that because of "a chance confluence of policies, plans, legal actions and economic trends" casino gaming, the state lottery and other forms of sanctioned gambling are a boon to the economy.
But the report also found the state has done a poor job of managing the industry and more and more residents, including those living in Fairfield County, abuse gambling.
"It was a validation of some of the information I think that has been out there anecdotally for years," Young said of the report, which has been forwarded to the governor and General Assembly. "This was able to bring some of that together and put it in black and white for us."
From the 1970s into the early 1990s, the General Assembly funded gambling studies every five years. But over time, legislators were less and less willing to spend the money on the effort, and the last analysis dates back to 1997 -- just a few years after the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Indian gaming casinos opened near the Rhode Island border.
According to Spectrum, the two casinos are responsible, directly and indirectly, for $1.2 billion
worth of personal income in Connecticut and since 1992 have accounted for about 12 percent of the net new job growth.
The 25 percent of gross slot revenues collected by the state -- which exploded from $30 million in 1993 to $411.4 million in 2008 -- alone equals about 60 percent of the $750 million Connecticut collects total in taxes from its numerous corporations.
And Spectrum also characterized the Connecticut Lottery as one of the nation's most successful, with gross sales of $957 million in 2007, 29 percent of which went to the state's general fund.
But then there is "the bad and the ugly" of the analysis.
Spectrum found that while Connecticut negotiated agreements with American Indian tribes requiring they pay "reasonable and necessary" regulatory costs, the state has failed to collect and taxpayers lost $16 million between 2004 and 2008 alone.
"That's really been under the radar," said Michael Diamond, who oversaw the study for Spectrum.
At the same time, state government has sucked up more and more of slot revenues. Seventy-eight percent of the monies were divvied up among cities and towns in the early 1990s. That figure reached 21 percent in 2007 and continues to steadily decline in part because of the recent slump in casino attendance.
According to the state budget office, in the 2008-09 fiscal year Bridgeport received $9.5 million in slot revenues, Danbury $1.4 million, Norwalk $1.3 million, Stamford $1.4 million and Greenwich nearly $171,000.
Those amounts decreased for the 2009-10 fiscal year to $8.8 million for Bridgeport, $1.3 million for Danbury, $1.2 million for Norwalk, $1.3 million for Stamford and $136,348 for Greenwich.
Spectrum also reported that between 2001 and 2008 the Problem Gambling branch of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services saw a six-fold increase in caseload but state funding did not keep pace.
In an effort to gauge the demographics of potentially problem gamblers -- defined by state statutes as "a person who is chronically and progressively preoccupied with gambling (which) compromises, disrupts or damages personal, family or vocational pursuits" -- Spectrum performed a phone survey of nearly 2,300 individuals in the eight counties.
Of the 76 categorized as problem gamblers, the highest percentage -- 26.9 percent -- live in Fairfield County.
But at the same time, the Spectrum study also showed Fairfield County has the lowest number of non-problem gamblers -- 27.2 percent of the 2,011 surveyed.
Diamond said Spectrum debated whether to break down the data by county for fear it might skew the results and the report urges caution in interpreting the various demographic tables.
But Diamond added Fairfield County "kept popping up over and over again. So it would seem to me reliable the numbers seem high."
In many cases Fairfield County came in third behind Hartford and New Haven
Of the 838 respondents who had gambled monthly, 24.5 percent lived in Fairfield County, compared to 26 percent in Hartford County and 25.8 in New Haven County.
Of the 1,234 respondents who over the past year played the lottery, 22.7 percent lived in Fairfield County, with the highest, 28.1 percent, living in Hartford County and the second highest, 25.6 percent, in New Haven County.
Of the 818 residents who had gambled at the casinos within the year, 30.9 percent were from Hartford County, 23.8 percent from New Haven County and 20.5 percent from Fairfield County.
"The one thing that jumped out at me was the numbers were not as great closer to the casino" in New London County, Young said, although the report outlines a host of issues those venues cause for surrounding towns.
Told of the Spectrum study results, Bob Vietro, a Westport-based gambling counselor, said he was not surprised about some of the Fairfield County data.
"There's an analogy we use. We often say that money to the gambler is what alcohol is to the alcoholic," he said. "It makes some sense from my observations."
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