Monday, March 21, 2011

Vice in your backyard

In the comments to my previous post on the overnight gambling bus crash, Jonathan wrote, "I am kind of disappointed in this post; I thought you were going to argue for more conveniently located casinos in order to spare the hopelessly addicted the long dangerous bus ride." Well, Jonathan, you can always GYOFB, but we aim to please here, so...

The second thought I had about the gambling bus crash is that it indicates multiple major failures of transportation and land use policy. There is clearly a high demand for late night gambling, and the system is set up to satisfy it in a grossly inefficient way, with eight-hour bus trips to casinos in the woods of rural Connecticut.

A lot of this comes from the longstanding practice of "solving" problems of vice (which also include undesirable sexual and drug-related activities) by pushing them outside the city, instead of figuring out how to regulate them effectively. With subsidized roads it became possible to push casinos outside the metro area completely, as with Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

There are many crazy things about this whole story, but one of the craziest is the fiction that it is somehow "Indian gaming." The Pequot nation has a glorious history, but at one point the population was too small to fill one of these buses. The numbers have increased since then, but only by counting anyone who can show the remotest connection with the group. They don't live on the reservation, or near each other at all.

The people who developed the casino, the people who run it, and the people who gamble there come from the whole spectrum of American ethnicities. As I understand it, people with Chinese and Jewish backgrounds are especially well-represented among all three groups, largely because other ethnic groups have a history of considering gambling to be sinful.

The fact that the law required these casinos to be located on a reservation in Eastern Connecticut (but convenient to Interstate 95) means that people who want to gamble in the middle of the night will have to spend a lot of time on the road.

I know it would be almost impossible politically, but imagine if we could set up a place in lower Manhattan where people could gamble. It would be walking distance from Chinatown, from the N train to Sunset Park, from the R train to Elmhurst, and from the Chinatown buses. It would also be accessible to non-Chinese people from all over, of course.

Hm, now that I think about it, there are places in Lower Manhattan where people can go to gamble - perfectly legally. Unfortunately, you're not allowed in unless you're a member of an elite club. You can pay one of the club members to gamble on your behalf, but you lose the excitement of being there. Even then, many of these "brokers" require a minimum bet in the thousands, out of reach of many Chinese waiters. Oh, and they're only open from 9 AM to 4 PM.


Silli said...

Southeastern CT has the highest rate of drunk-driving in all of CT. So not only are gamblers put at risk every time they are stuck driving or taking the bus there, the residents of the regions are also put at risk by drunken gamblers on their way home.

Stephen Smith said...

Atlantic City had its heyday long before the automobile attained dominance, from what I understand. I presume its clientele consisted mostly of people who came from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York via train.

Jonathan said...

Thank you for the fantastic and thoughtful post, Cap'n!

Alon Levy said...

Gambling is attractive mainly if you're a small city, like Monaco, or like Bugsy Siegel-era Las Vegas. The vice is the same, but the revenues can be large compared to your size, and those can pay for public services to offset the associated social problems. Monaco has a huge police force relative to its size, and is considered the safest place in the Riviera. Although there are several cities adjacent to New York that could benefit from legalizing gambling and building casinos next to the train stations, New York itself is frankly too big. It could draw revenues, if it could keep the mafia away, but it would not be able to transform itself the way Yonkers or Secaucus or Jersey City could or the way Monaco did.

Cap'n Transit said...

Makes sense, Alon, but I wasn't saying that New York City should have a casino here for the economic development. My point was that there would be no need for overnight buses if it were here.

You're right that it would probably be more help to Jersey City or Yonkers. Maybe Paterson or Hackensack even.

Brandon said...

Im surprised that nobody mentioned the talk about putting a casino at the Aqueduct race track. Its got Subway and Bus access, etc, and isnt in the middle of the city where the authorities clearly dont want it. (as it turns out, they didnt want it at Aqueduct either)

jazumah said...

They did want it at Aqueduct, but there were "complications" about the bidding process. Part of their thought process was that Aqueduct already has its own station and the infrastructure was designed to support rail service from 42 Street to the Aqueduct platform.

eclisham said...

So, some facts about buses and casinos:

1. Bus traffic into casinos can be heavily regulated (as in Atlantic City), and casinos must abide by those regulations.

2. Casinos have a limited number of bus slots, and a bus company has to make a reservation.

3. Most casinos also require an eight-hour stay.

4. Used to be (regulations may have changed) that a bus driver could drive a maximum of 10 hours, with five additional on-duty hours, and then was required to have eight hours off. The casino minimum-stay requirement was almost certainly a way to give the driver those eight hours.

Thus there is a maximum distance whence buses to casinos can travel and still have their drivers stay within regulations, and there is a maximum capacity at casinos for buses, both of which lead to at least some of the late-night gambling referred to in the article. It's not entirely driven by consumer demand.