The growing casino industry in the U.S. is built on a model of profitability that bears very close resemblance to two other industries: the tobacco industry and the opioid pain medication industry. While it is rather obvious that all three industries have demonstrated the ability to be consistently profitable, the models used to achieve that profitability are remarkably similar. All three industries began with addictive products. Through investments in research and development, they continually refined their product designs to emphasize and amplify addiction as a design element in order to increase profits. In each case, aggressive and deceptive marketing tactics were employed to target vulnerable populations and to normalize their addictive products despite the risks they posed to consumers. In each case, these products created substantial social costs. For the tobacco industry this includes the premature deaths of nearly half a million Americans annually, an enormous healthcare burden, and a substantial loss of productivity. For the opioid pain medication industry this includes thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of overdoses and an illicit market for other opioids that create enormous healthcare and criminal justice expenditures funded by tax dollars. The casino industry’s products do not directly cause physical harm such as lung cancer or opioid overdose. Rather, this industry’s products are designed to induce consumers to get in “the zone” and “play to extinction.” The impacts on communities caused by casinos are latent, much like the lung cancer that appears in a smoker a quarter century after she takes her first of more than a million puffs. An addicted gambler will potentially experience bankruptcy, divorce, unemployment, and perhaps engage in embezzlement or larceny to keep gambling. The volume of such individuals reduces civic engagement and family stability in communities located in the vicinity of casinos. Other social costs include loss of productivity and healthcare costs associated with comorbidities related to the addiction to casino industry products. The accumulation of social costs and misery caused by highly profitable industries may provoke responses in social attitudes and policy. Over the past twenty-five years or so, federal, state, and local policies have regulated and reduced the impact of tobacco industry products. Litigation, too, has had an impact not only on tobacco industry profits but also in increasing transparency regarding tobacco industry behavior through discovery and whistleblower testimony. Such transparency has contributed to a denormalization of that industry’s business model. More recently, the opioid crisis, driven by the opioid pain medication industry, has initiated policymaking as well as thousands of lawsuits against industry leaders. The casino industry, highly reliant upon electronic gambling machines designed to addict consumers may soon find itself in a very defensive legal and policy posture much like the tobacco and opioid pain medication industries which share its business model.
a. Northeastern University School of Law Boston MA USA.
b. Northeastern University School of Law Boston MA USA.
c. Public Health Advocacy Institute, Boston MA USA.
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