Governing Fortune: Casino Gambling in America, by Edward A. Morse and Ernest P. Goss. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. Paperback: ISBN 978 0 472 06965 1, $29.95. 344 pages.
Seeking to cash in on what appears to be an almost insatiable level of consumer demand, state governments and Indian Nations have fueled an explosion in gambling activities in this country over the last quarter century. One prominent feature of this growth has been the proliferation of casinos and racinos, horse tracks with slot machines and/or table games, now found in well over half the American states. What are the benefits and costs of casino gambling in the states, and what are the legal conditions that give rise to these outcomes? In Governing Fortune, a well-executed and thorough piece of research, Morse and Goss seek to answer these two basic questions.
Although spanning twelve chapters, Governing Fortune is composed of two distinct parts, reflective of the two questions that guide this study and the backgrounds of the two authors. The first five chapters provide an overview of the casino industry and offer an assessment of both its economic benefits, commonly touted by gambling proponents, and its social costs, impacts which the authors argue are much more difficult to capture and, as a result, more likely to be ignored or minimized in policy debates. Drawing on an array of data sources and employing relatively simple forms of analysis, the authors examine the economic consequences of casino gaming on a number of dimensions, most of which will be familiar to those toiling in this area. The findings generally fall on the plus side, especially the overall financial profitability of these operations, but the results are not nearly as uniform as one might suspect. For instance, while they find that casinos have a positive influence on local employment patterns they do not appear to produce long-term increases in personal income. Similarly, casinos generate public revenue streams as predicted but apparently not the corresponding tax relief as promised.
The efforts of Morse and Goss to get a handle on the social costs of casino gambling are ambitious and provocative. Working primarily with survey data they attempt to estimate the extent of problem and pathological gambling in the general population, and to link this behavior to the casino industry and a variety of social maladies, including crime and bankruptcy. Acknowledging the inherent difficulty in...