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The Effects of Casino Gambling on At-Risk Groups
in the City of Detroit
Reports Coalition to Repeal Proposal E
LANSING, Mich., May 18, 1998 -- Dr. Robin Widgery, Senior Research Associate, Social Systems Research Institute, today released the detailed findings of a research report on the effects of casino gambling on at-risk groups in the city of Detroit. Dr. Widgery presented his report at a press conference sponsored by the Coalition to Repeal Proposal E.

Since the passage of Proposal E in 1996, many rational people have had second thoughts as to the wisdom of placing three casinos in the heart of downtown Detroit and within ready access of millions of people in southeastern Michigan. Because the Proposal was carried by a slim margin of about one percent, and because millions of dollars were spent by the casino interests to convince the electorate, and because few or no funds were spent by the opposition, there are many now who believe that this issue should be examined carefully and objectively to determine what, if any, negative impacts casinos will likely have upon the social and economic
fabric of Detroit.

The Harvard University's Center for Addiction Studies has reported that "at risk" groups, e.g. the poor, the elderly, and the young, are more seriously impacted by gambling than are other groups in our society. They found that these groups, especially the poor and the elderly, lose significantly more in gambling as a proportion of their total income than do those in higher income groups. Their findings provided the motivation for those sponsoring this research. If the Harvard findings are valid, their results deserve to be tested in Detroit, a community that should receive serious social, economic, and political damage with the emergence of a strong casino industry.

It is reasonable to assume that as casino gambling has already exacted a significant human toll within the City, it is also reasonable to expect three more local casinos to exact an even greater price. Unfortunately, this research should have been done long before the 1996 vote on Proposal E to help guide the sentiments of local leaders. Perhaps the enthusiasm of those who see the economic salvation of the City being directly tied to the fortunes of the casino developers would have been tempered by the sobering touch of reality.

Research Objectives

If the Harvard Findings are correct, then it should be of great concern to decision makers in Detroit to examine just how casinos are likely to impact those individuals who will probably be harmed the most. The purpose of this research has been to examine this issue, to quantify the magnitude of impact casino gambling has already had on the most vulnerable members of the Detroit community. Moreover, the specific objectives have been to record the dynamics of casino gambling within the City of Detroit, its magnitude and effects. (It may be assumed that the negative effects experienced in the past 12 months are likely to be multiplied dramatically should three casinos be built within the city.) The dynamics of casino gambling examined in this report include: (1) Who are the casino patrons?, (2) How many people gamble at casinos -- and how frequently?, (3) How much money do they win or lose each year at a casino?, (4) How does gambling effect family life and the community in general?, (5) Where do they gamble and how often?, and (6) How much support or opposition is there among Detroit citizens for the repeal of Proposal E?

Research Method

In late March and early April of this year, adults in 700 households within the City of Detroit were interviewed. Their phone numbers were selected by a method that would assure a representative sampling of residents with telephones in their homes. This method makes certain that even those not listed in the telephone book would have an equal probability of selection as those with such a listing. All calls were monitored on a random basis to assure quality, and were closely supervised. The average interview length was approximately 16.2 minutes. The turndown rate was 15 percent (not uncommon for telephone surveys). The sample validity was within +/- 4 percent.

Data was collected through the use of a Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) system. Information was stored, cleaned and analyzed with statistical software that is the standard for social research, the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). All care was taken in the questionnaire design, data gathering, and analysis phases to observe the highest standards of scientific rigor.

Summary of Results

1. About a third of the sample had gambled at a casino in the past 12 months. (This figure is nearly identical to the percentage reported in a state-wide survey conducted by Western Michigan University in 1997). At least 14 percent of those who gambled at a casino in the past year had done so at least four times. 
2. Casinos provided the most popular form of gambling for the people of Detroit (78% of gamblers), followed by the lottery (72%), and bingo (25%) .
3. One in every 14 families interviewed (7%) reported that casino gambling had had a detrimental impact on their family life. About three in ten said that casino gambling had a negative effect on the people of Detroit and the community generally.
4. One third of respondents "personally knew" someone living in Detroit who "is a compulsive gambler."
5. One in every 16 respondents (6%), reported that at least one person in their household was a "compulsive gambler." This figure is nearly doubled for those in low income groups and those receiving public assistance -- both "at-risk" groups. Overall, the Detroit percentage of problem gamblers is twice the figure reported in the Western Michigan University survey conducted in 1997. 
6. When asked if they personally knew of problems caused by gambling, respondents most mentioned bankruptcy (18%), followed by: family violence (16%), theft/robbery (15%), divorce (15%), alcoholism (13%), violent crime (10%), and suicide (7%). 
7. Slightly better than four in 10 respondents said they would vote to repeal Proposal E. Just over half (51%) said they would not. 
8. When asked "If it were found to be harmful to the quality-of-life in Detroit, would you vote to repeal Proposal E?," seven in 10 respondents (69%) said yes. 
9. The most frequently visited casino among Detroiters who gamble is Windsor (72% and 10.1 average visits in the past year), followed by "out of state" casinos (46% and 9.9 visits), and Soaring Eagle in Mt. Pleasant (25% and 4.8 visits). 
10. Nearly three in 10 respondents (28%) now receiving public assistance or are widowed (27%) patronized a casino in the past year. Those receiving public assistance lost five times more as a proportion of their total household income than did other Detroiters. Lower income groups generally lost 2.4 times more as a proportion of their total household income, than did upper income groups. 
11. Thirty-eight percent (38%) of single Detroit mothers patronized casinos in the past 12 months. 
12. On average, African-Americans lost 2.5 times more at casinos than Whites. 
13. While the general crime index remained essentially unchanged for Detroit between '93 and '96, arsons and motor vehicle theft increased markedly between '95 and '96 -- the period immediately after the opening of the Windsor casino. 

The Coalition to Repeal Proposal E is a group of concerned Michigan citizens who represent every county, virtually all communities of faith, many public and special interest groups, and all political parties. The reasons for our opposition to casino gambling in Detroit is as varied as our backgrounds.

Join us in our drive to gather 247,127 signatures on referendum petitions which will give the people of Michigan another opportunity to address this issue at the polls. Petition circulators are strongly encouraged to return all petitions to the coalition office no later than noon Wednesday, May 27. Signatures must be submitted by 5 p.m. that day. For further information and petitions, please call the Coalition to Repeal Proposal E at 800-745-3334.

Robin Widgery, Ph.D.
Senior Research Associate of Social Systems Research Institute

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