WPCNR QUILL & EYESHADE . John Bailey Interviews Mark Pilarski, syndicated gaming columnist. November 4, 2013:
On the eve of Election Day,2013, one proposition looms very big. New York State is asking voters to approve casino gambling in 7 areas, specific locations not disclosed.
I interviewed a gaming expert, Mark Pilarski, this morning from his home in Michigan, who has worked for 18 years in 7 different casinos. He writes a syndicated gambling column for the Detroit Free Press and is read in many papers across the country. WPCNR asked Mr. Pilarski about the impact of a casino when it comes to an area.
WPCNR: How much revenue does a state usually get from a casino?
Mark Pulaski: Every jurisdiction in America sets up their own deal with a casino, whether it be Indian, or what the government makes with the local jurisdiction. It really depends. I’ll give you an example,you know Detroit is in bankruptcy. After all of the accounting, 25% of their revenue for the whole city (of Detroit) is coming from three casinos.
There’s no two states alike. I’ve followed it a little bit, I started in Nevada state, when Atlantic City wasn’t open yet. As I’ve seen all these jurisdictions come on , they all cut their own deals.
WPCNR: Would you feel 7 more casinos would solve New York’s money problems?
MARK: I’ve followed it a little bit. They’ve promised some 6,700 construction jobs. I’m not an expert in construction so I’m not qualified to answer that. They’re also saying, 2,900 permanent jobs. I’m going to take a shot here and say that’s a light figure, I think they ’ll end up being more (permanent jobs). An example I’ll give you is I worked at Harrahs Lake Tahoe, and we had 2,500 employees in one casino. So I think that 2,900 figure might be a little bit light. I don’t know the size of casinos, but if you’re running 3 or 4 thousand slots,150 table games, you’re going to need a lot of employees.
WPCNR: Does crime go up when a casino comes to an area?
MARK: I’m going to answer this two ways. Do I want a casino down the street from me, which I do by the way. I would vote no. There’s traffic, I know the business, I’ve been in the business for 18 years. It’s not that they’re not good for the economy. I kind of like the quiet lifestyle now, I’d probably vote no.
As for crime, it’s not going to stay the same. Plan on it going up. Gambling is a vice business.You people at a slot machine with a Pall Mall hanging out of their lips and they’ve got a vodka orange juice in their right hand. It does raise crime.
But here’s the deal. At least where I’ve worked, they have standalone casinos. I lived at the Hyatt Regency, 300 yards from Harrah’s, I never saw any of those casino patrons in my neighborhood. They were not wandering around neighborhoods breaking into houses. Now muggings in the parking lot, they will probably go up. A lot of times when you cut a deal with the government they’re going to supply additional police. Every little bit of crime is going to go up some. But I would use the word between some and substantial, find me a word in-between those and I’ll buy it. You’re going to have more prostitution, more muggings, and petty crimes, random breaking into cars. The number one business that is going to go up is pawn shops.
WPCNR: Can there be too many casinos in an area, cannibalizing each other?
MARK: Absolutely. In September (2013) I saw a figure that floored me. Every single gaming jurisdiction in the United States of America of which 30-some states have casino gambling of one form or another showed a downtrend in the revenues for the state for the month of September, with the exception of Detroit which was flat and Louisiana which had not reported.
I’m at the point right now where I think there are too many casinos everywhere. In New York what you’re trying to do is to capture people that are going to Pennsylvania, that are going Maryland, that are going to Massachusetts, that are going to New Jersey. Then they won’t make that drive there. They will relatively stay local because you don’t drive 300 miles to Atlantic City from upstate New York to gamble there when you’ve got one twenty miles away.
Having too many casinos, there’s one positive: That always makes it more competitive. The player gets a better deal. You have a standalone in the Catskills, they can set odds for games they are able to do like slots, craps, whatever they want, change the machine on video poker to whatever they want if they’re the only one out there, but no competition.
WPCNR: Do you think New York can support 7 casinos.
MARK: Yes, they can support that. They have the largest population next to California. The big bonanza is whoever gets in the area first, about 7 to 10 years down the road. If you have a stand alone casino in the Catskills that is not going to have a hard time supporting itself.
If you have a restaurant near a casino, it is tough to make it. Because the casino will try to keep you in their “shop,” and keep you there as long as they want. They’ll discount food prices, that will be a bit competitive. You do have a lot of local traffic, plus the problem gamblers, the vices that come with it, that will increase and I would say a 60% local, 40% out of the area. In Traverse City, Michigan, it is about 40% out of the area, 60% local in the casino.
If it’s a tourist destination area, and you’re a stand-alone casino with no amenities to do other things Figure it’s going to be 80-20 locals.
WPCNR: What’s honest and dishonest about a casino?
MARK: Almost everything is honest about a casino in this respect. Every state in the union has a gaming jurisdiction. To get licensed as an employee. Forget about the upper management, and the income is so scrutinized. I as a key operating officer in a casino was scrutinized almost as much as owning a casino in the state of Nevada. If you’re a waitress, you have to be fingerprinted in Nevada, and your fingerprints run through the FBI
The casino, they do not need to cheat, steal or do anything to you. They rely on a simple mathematical formula. If you and I flip a coin and every time you win I have to pay you 80 cents. Every time I win you have to pay me a dollar. That’s the percentage they have on a lot of the games.
So why do they need to cheat you? The other reason they wouldn’t cheat you, the MGMs, the Harrahs, the Ceasars, the Sands all trade on the New York Stock Exchange. The last thing they want is dishonesty in any way shape or form. They have the mathematics in their favor.
What’s dishonest about a casino is the fact that they think it’s just adult entertainment. They don’t like the word gambling it’s “gaming,” you’re here to have fun.
Well, no, you’re losing money. If you go to a football game, or a play, you come out of there relatively happy. You come out of a casino, losing four or five thousand dollars, you didn’t have fun. It wasn’t entertaining. I’ve seen people put a trash can through the window of a casino because they lost $500
WPCNR: Can an area surrounding a casino expect a rise in services due to the effects of casino presence?
MARK: It is a service industry job. The highest position I got was as a casino shift manager. My job driving services was to look at you and say “I’m going to take all your money,” (Because that’s the business we’re in, taking your money}, “ try to give you nothing in return and hopefully put a smile on your face that you’ll come back again.”
You get good quality service in a casino, and I wrote a column recently about some of the benefits that come with casino gambling. There’s other activities, great golf courses, swimming pools, dining, all that stuff is there. But you’re not going to move someone off a machine if he/(she) is winning.
The casino is an equal opportunity employer. It is easy to move up the ladder. I don’t care your gender, race, it’s easy to make easy pay. It’s become much more family oriented now, so you’re not discriminated against in any way. If you’re an eager beaver and you show up on time, you’re going to climb the ladder relatively fast to any other industry. Because it’s very transcient. That’s the number one positive about casino gambling.There are people I was the boss of who are now running casinos all over the United States.
WPCNR: Would the area of a new casino have to expect more people who develop personal problems?
Mark: That’s going to happen. Gamblers Anonymous says there’s 10% people who are going to walk into a casino that have problems or are going to have problems,(they’re not gambling yet) with gambling. It’s all walks of life. In my area, a priest, an administrator of church the past year. It’s up to the newspaper to report this, scare people straight sometimes. I would say there’s a 10% group that’s going to have a problem.
I’ve given speeches in the past and said at the very beginning, let’s say you’re an alcoholic, drug addict, or prostitute, or you’re a gambler, what’s the worst? I guy can go through a $100 a day on alcohol; maybe triple that for drugs; but the casino can legally take your house in one day. You can’t take title to it, but you can go out and get second or third mortgages on it in one day.
There’s no limit on what you can blow, and that’s the thing.
About Mark Pilarski
A recognized authority on casino gambling, Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audio book series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Pilarski has worked in the following casino areas: Casino Shift Manager,Games Shift Manager,Pit Boss, Floorman, Boxman, Dealer of all Table Games, Sports Book, Cashier Cage, Hard Count, Soft Count, Slots, Keno.
He is the author of a series of books and videos, and audio tapes on gambling smart and writes a gambling column and has contributed to Chicago Sun-Times, San Jose Mercury-News, Detroit Free Press,The Sun-Herald, San Diego Union-Tribune, The Sacramento Bee, The Detroit News, Reno-Gazette-Journal,The Arizona Repubic, The Discovery Channel. His website is www.markpulaski.com