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Gambling and Smoking and Drinking! Oh My!

Posted By Jonathan Noel, Monday, April 13, 2015

Under the guise of fixing the budget and economic growth, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is systematically removing some of the last controls Connecticut has at limiting the social and economic impacts of legal addictions.  The health consequences of these decisions are rarely part of the decision making process, and if effect, the state is creating a future public health problem by pushing for these policies.  Let’s run down the list.

Gambling

A bill is currently making its way through the legislature that would allow the Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes to jointly open up to 3 new casinos in Connecticut.  Connecticut is highly reliant casino revenue to plug budget deficits.  As early as 2008, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun contributed nearly $5 billion dollars to the general fund since their inception. This has not come without consequences.  Here are the results of a 2009 study prepared for then Governor Jodi Rell.

  • The city of Norwich experienced a 27% increase in the number of motor vehicle accidents between when the Foxwoods casino opened to 2008 and was required to spend over $280,000 in police overtime in 2008 due to a 76% increase in the number of service calls.

  • Connecticut’s casinos cost nearby towns $1-2.5 million a year, and the casinos have cost the state nearly $16 million from 2004 to 2008 in regulatory costs.

  • Since casino gambling was legalized in Connecticut, arrests for embezzlement have increased by nearly 500%.

  • The proliferation of sub-standard housing in surrounding communities have forced cities to hire “Blight Officers”.

  • The prevalence of pathological and problem gambling increased over the last decade.

These are the costs of expanding gambling in Connecticut. 

Smoking

Connecticut has one of the worst records in the country for spending on anti-smoking efforts.  Of the $2 billion dollars given to the state from the Master Settlement Agreement since 2000, just about 10% has gone to Connecticut’s Tobacco and Health Trust, created to support tobacco prevention, education and cessation efforts.  The majority of this money, $170 million, has been taken by the state to help balance the budget or for other programs.  To put that in perspective, we spend $430 million for Medicaid costs each year for diseases caused by smoking.   Funding that would be well spent on tobacco cessation efforts is again slated to be taken for close budget loopholes.  Legislation has already been passed to suspend the Trust’s activities for 2016.

Drinking

In 2012, Gov. Malloy succeeded in lifting Connecticut’s ban on Sunday alcohol sales.  In 2015, Malloy is pushing for even greater expansions of alcohol availability and lower prices.  To say these efforts are misguided in an understatement.  There are numerous, consistent results from around the world that increasing alcohol availability increases alcohol use and alcohol-related problems.  These problems include more DUI’s, more motor vehicle accidents, more violence, and more deaths.  Not surprisingly, if we strengthen alcohol control policies, we see less alcohol use and less alcohol-related problems.  Connecticut already has an alcohol problem.  Over 18% of adults are binge drinkers with over 6% being classified as heavy drinkers.  Over 1/3 of our middle and high schoolers are current drinkers and 20% are binge drinkers.  These numbers scream for greater control, not less.

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