Most people don't associate gambling with healthy body weight, but that's just what a recent study by Johns Hopkins University attempts to do. Communities with at least one local casino are more likely to see lower rates of childhood obesity than communities without a casino, the study showed. Researchers suggest the reason for this could be that casinos boost the resources and personal incomes of people within a community, thereby resulting in improved weight and overall health.
The Correlation Between Income and Body Weight
To understand the relationship between casinos and body weight, it's important to first understand the correlation between income and body weight. Statistics suggest that being overweight is more common in poorer populations. A 16-year study by Truong and Sturm found that overall body fat increased every year among groups of adults with low-level income and/or low-level education. Body fat was quantified by calculating subjects' BMI, a formulaic measure of weight and height. A higher BMI is sometimes associated with certain health risks like heart disease and cancer.
Research also suggests that women and children are more negatively impacted by low income and low education levels than men. Furthermore, white women are more likely to develop weight problems than black and Mexican American women due to poor financial circumstances, according to a 2011 study by Freedman.
If a local community is economically stimulated by the presence of a casino, it follows that the people in that community would reap the financial benefits. People with money in their pockets are more likely to make nutritious grocery purchases and spend time exercising at clubs and/or playing league sports. They are also more likely to seek medical care when they need it. The Johns Hopkins study suggests that having a casino not only diminishes a community's obesity problem, it actually lowers the BMI of that community's children. In an era where gambling is on the rise, this is good news.
Community Casinos and Economic Growth
The Johns Hopkins researchers make the assumption that the presence of a casino boosts a community's economic growth. When a city or other municipality puts new casino construction on a ballot, economic growth is often touted as one of the major benefits. Casino advocates use this as a selling point and a beacon of hope in today's difficult economy.
Case in point: Last November in New York, citizens voted on a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo that would provide for the construction of seven new state casinos over the next decade (read this article). Public schools were promised the lion's share of the revenue, but other special interests were told they would also receive a slice of the pie. The proposal was passed by a slim margin on Election Day 2013. While the prospect of economic growth and increased school funding attracted many New Yorkers, still others worried that additional casinos would deliver more harm than good to the landscape of the state.
Voters and other concerned citizens want to know what benefits they might enjoy if the construction of a new casino is approved in their area. In addition to improved health and decreased body weight, here are a few other perks:
Perk: Increased Employment
Put simply, new casinos help people get jobs. A gambling facility needs clerks, cleaners, accountants, dealers, managers, food service workers, and a plethora of other specialized employees. It's a well-known fact that when a casino is constructed in a particular area, unemployment rates often go down.
Thomas Garrett of the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis cautions that the reasons for improved employment in a casino town should be scrutinized carefully. While the introduction of a new gambling hall might correlate with a decline in unemployment, the improvement could also be due to overall state gains that have more to do with the national economy than the local one. Improvements could also be due to natural business cycles that tend to ebb and flow over time.
Garrett also suggests that employment rates in rural areas could be less positively affected by the introduction of a new casino than employment rates in urban areas. This is because casinos require employees with a variety of areas of expertise, and rural areas with smaller populations are less likely to have all the right people to fill all casino positions. When a casino is erected in a rural area, the worker pool often extends to large neighboring cities where more qualified casino workers may be found.
Perk: Boosted Retail Sales
A town with gambling facilities often enjoys increased retail sales. When people visit a casino, they frequently eat a meal at a local restaurant and purchase gas in the town. Casinos that draw visitors from far and wide are more likely to boost retail sales than casinos that appeal only to locals. This is because community members who visit their local casino often engage in a phenomenon known as the substitution effect: They spend the money they would have otherwise spent on restaurants, movies, etc., at the casino. In essence, they substitute one luxury for another and the local economy is no better off.
Out-of-town travelers who visit a community's casino, however, stand a better chance of positively impacting local retail sales. People far from home tend to treat their gambling forays more like a vacation. Because of this, they are more likely to spend money on restaurants, museums, and shopping than people who live in that town all the time.
Rural areas are less likely to benefit from increased retail sales if the casino doesn't draw a lot of visitors from out of town. Conversely, urban casinos that attract a great many tourists are the businesses most likely to reap great retail benefits.
When a community adds a casino to its mix of local businesses, the job pool widens, local spending goes up, and BMI often goes down. Local residents, whether they choose to hit the slots and game tables or not, are often the true winners for this reason.