Plans to build a casino have risen and fallen from the public agenda for decades now. It’s no coincidence that they’re always for poorer towns with employment problems: Mitzpeh Ramon, Beit She’an and Eilat. The official reason is always the desire to create jobs and stoke the local economy, mainly the hotel and tourism industries.
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The shadow over these initiatives is cast by enthusiastic contributors to prime ministers – Martin Schlaff for Ariel Sharon and Sheldon Adelson for Benjamin Netanyahu. But even if these two magnates have not been linked to such initiatives, behind every privately run casino stands a wealthy person who often seeks to wield influence on policy makers using money.
Whether or not Adelson is in the back of Netanyahu’s mind in the current case, the money trail is clear: from the gamblers, usually members of the lower classes, to the pockets of a very wealthy promoter.
If this were a deal between equals there would be nothing improper about it, but it’s reasonable to suspect that much of the money changing hands should go to much more vital needs of the gamblers and their families.
Beyond this, there is other fallout from the gambling industry: widespread gray-market lending, the generation of income for organized crime (as the attorney general has noted), prostitution and drugs. First and foremost, there are the problems of addiction familiar at every gambling facility around the world.
All this makes the idea appear more harmful than beneficial. It’s no wonder Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz has taken a stance against the current initiative.
Even Mifal Hapayis, a gambling institution under state auspices, is controversial in light of the problem of addiction and harm to poorer people. Mifal Hapayis claims that there’s a return for the country in general – “You win, the country wins” – via the building of sports halls, cultural centers and other facilities. But this doesn’t hide the social ills inherent in gambling.
If the government considers education, art and culture top interests, it must change its priorities and simply invest more in these areas directly. A casino will not develop human capital but only the capital of those who make a living selling illusions to the needy.