Book Review: Integrated Resort Casinos

William R. Eadington and Meighan R. Doyle, editors. Integrated Resort Casinos: Implications for Economic Growth and Social Impacts. Reno: Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, 2009. 309 pages.

In November 2005, Harrah’s Entertainment announced plans to partner with Slovenia’s Hit group to build what was described as a $1.5 billion destination casino resort in Nova Gorica. This was hailed as an unprecedented development for the area, and triggered considerable governmental and economic inquiry. Three years later, however, plans to build the “mega-casino” crumbled, because of a variety of factors, including an unworkable tax structure, ownership issues, and political and religious opposition to the resort.

Much like the British “Super Casino” debate, this might seem to Americans (and particularly Nevadans) like much ado over nothing. The British super casino, which was also derailed by political blundering, would have been about the size of downtown Las Vegas’s Golden Nugget. The Harrah’s/Hit integrated casino resort would have been a bit smaller than the average Las Vegas Strip casino, with a 1,200-room hotel, 50,000 square-foot casino with 1,500 slots and 70 table games 50,000 square-feet of convention space, 3,000-seat theater, spa facilities, and shopping and food and beverage outlets. It sounds a bit like Atlantic City’s Borgata with a smaller casino.

In any other market but Las Vegas, this would be a major project. In Slovenia, it became the subject of a national debate that sparked many of the essays collected in Integrated Resort Casinos. The is divided into five parts: a general overview of destination resorts that distinguishes how they are different from other forms of casino gaming; explorations of the social and economic impacts of Slovenian gaming; a he said/he said debate on the ethical and moral nature of casinos; a discussion of the legal nature of Slovenian gambling; and a consideration of problem gambling mitigation strategies.

Though many of the essays focus on Slovenia, the book has a wider appeal, since these type of casino resorts are being built or considered in places from Singapore to Kansas.

A few things become clear from reading the many articles: casinos are, in many parts of the world, still quite contentious. There’s a great deal of bad information about what casinos do and how they do it. There’s no real agreement on what the “social costs” of gambling are, let alone how to measure them. All of these things make it difficult to say with scientific certainty exactly what the impact of a new casino resort will be.

Despite the best efforts of social scientists, there is never likely to be the kind of foolproof forecasting of a casino’s impact that critics would like. In fact, asking for this kind of roadmap to the future is unrealistic. Who could have predicted what would happen when Ray Kroc decided to standardize and simplify elements in his burger restaurant, or Larry Page and Sergei Brin rolled out a new search engine? The nature of life–be it economic or otherwise–is inherently unpredictable. This one lesson that casinos should teach us.

For me, the highlight of the book was section 3, in which Peter Collins and Bogdan Vidmar debate the morality of casino gambling, the former taking a Millian, classical liberal, latitudinarian approach, and the latter arguing against on religious and moral grounds. Collins delivers the clear, logical approach that he used in Gambling and the Public Interest, while Vidmar pulls out every anti-gambling statement he can to buttress his argument, including a comment from the Slovenian Human-Rights Ombudsman that new casinos can threatened the enforcement of children’s rights.

If you are interested in the social science that informs (or, in the Slovenian case, doesn’t inform) gambling expansion, Integrated Resort Casinos is highly recommended.

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