- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

The average slot-machine gambler is a middle-aged, middle-class woman seeking to trade disposable income for escapist entertainment, according to gambling industry surveys and officials.

Anti-gambling advocates don’t dispute that assessment, saying that casinos attract retirees by offering incentives such as low-cost medications and vintage stage acts.

“They have got the time and they increasingly have disposable income,” said Keith S. Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, an anti-gambling advocacy group.

But groups such as the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling also note that casinos reap a disproportionate amount of their revenue from minority bettors.

In a study presented to Congress last year, Earl L. Grinols, an economics professor at the University of Illinois, reported that minorities make up 10 percent of casino gamblers but account for 66 percent to 80 percent of bets placed.

The picture of the average gambler painted by pro- and anti-gambling advocates have played a key role in the debate over setting up thousands of slot machines at horse-racing tracks in Maryland.

According to gambling industry surveys and officials, most horse-racing bettors are men and most slot-machine gamblers are women.

“Men gravitate more toward games of skill and women have a tendency to gravitate towards games of chance,” said Lizabeth C. White, deputy director of marketing for the West Virginia Lottery. “There is very little crossover.”

A survey conducted for the American Gaming Association this year found that the average casino gambler has a median income of $53,204 — 16 percent higher than the national average of $45,781.

Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc. and the Luntz Research Companies conducted the survey from Feb. 22 to March 1, interviewing 1,200 adult Americans. A total of 487 interviews were conducted in states with casinos, and the rest were conducted in non-gambling states. The telephone survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Meanwhile, a face-to-face survey of 100,000 adults conducted in 2002 found that 81 percent of women visiting casinos play the slot machines, compared with 67 percent of men, and that 78 percent of gamblers older than 65 play the slots.

The survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points, was conducted for Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., the Las Vegas-based operator of 25 casinos in 12 states.

The “Profile of the American Casino Gambler” survey found that 46 percent of casino gamblers are white-collar workers, 26 percent are blue-collar workers and 26 percent are otherwise employed, such as military personnel and homemakers. Thirteen percent are retired. The statistics closely resemble those for the U.S. work force.

Harrah’s survey also found that 45 percent of casino gamblers have no college experience, 28 percent have some college experience, 17 percent are college graduates and 8 percent have postgraduate experience. The statistics closely match those for the education level of the U.S. population.

The median age for casinogoers is 47, while the U.S. median age is 45, according to the survey. About 54 percent of casino patrons are women.

Lisa Pertzoff, executive director for the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, cautions that men can be found gambling at slot machines when they have control problems.

“The compulsive gamblers start out” betting on horses, said Ms. Pertzoff, whose group handles the District’s gambling help line. “At the end of the day, the real problem gamblers will wager on anything.”

According to Harrah’s 2002 survey, about 720,000 Marylanders — or 19.3 percent of the state’s population — made about five trips to casinos, most of them in Atlantic City, N.J., and Delaware.

Maryland gamblers spend $309 million a year in casinos in Delaware and West Virginia, two neighboring horse-racing states that continually advertise their slot machines in Maryland.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has sought to keep that money in the state to help finance public education and boost Maryland’s ailing horse-racing industry. His plan to set up as many as 15,500 slot machines at four privately owned racetracks and two off-site locations has been killed in the House of Delegates for the past two years.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who has been key in killing the Ehrlich proposal, last week called for amending the state constitution to permit slot machines and proposed setting up gambling halls across the state at largely government-owned sites. The Anne Arundel County Democrat has given the governor until tomorrow to consider his offer.

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