Last weekend I had the opportunity to photograph inside an abandoned silk mill in Lonaconing, Maryland. The mill opened in 1907, producing thread from silk imported from China and Japan and connected to the Baltimore harbor by rail. At the beginning of World War II the plant switched to making nylon thread for the war effort.
Travel, of course, has been very limited over the past year, so I’ve been making short trips to interesting local sites never visited to photograph. In October, we discovered Fort Washington National Park in Maryland south of the District, a beautiful place for a fall photowalk.
Last month I found myself living fifteen minutes from a “Vegas-style” casino,1 many years after moving out of the real Las Vegas.
I started my teaching career in Sin City and lived just a few miles west of the infamous Strip for nine years. Even so, our visits to the casinos were infrequent, mostly going for the cheap food and an occasional show when my wife was able to score free tickets. Our gambling expenses were very limited: a couple of rolls of quarters in an evening when visitors came to town, usually slurped up by video poker machines.
At the time, Las Vegas and Atlantic City were the only two places in the US where you could legally experience high stakes gaming. Lotteries, with relatively low payouts in the beginning, were still only available in a few states. So, for most Americans, playing the slot machines, roulette, and craps was a unique experience, a vacation destination instead of the next exit on the beltway. Today, at least one casino is operating in 40 states, and a variety of million dollar lottery games are marketed in 44 of them.
Although research shows the number of gamblers in the US has “fluctuated between 24 percent and 30 percent of the population” for the past 20 years, many state and local officials continue to look for new ways to expand gaming in their jurisdictions. And they loudly promote the supposed benefits of casinos and lotteries: more tourist spending, increased tax revenue, prestige. Not to mention all the fun we’ll have. What they neglect to mention a huge negative side to the equation: for many people, gambling is additive.
The preferred mode of gambling these days is electronic gaming machines, of which there are now almost 1 million nationwide, offering variations on slots and video poker. Their prevalence has accelerated addiction and reaped huge profits for casino operators. A significant portion of casino revenue now comes from a small percentage of customers, most of them likely addicts, playing machines that are designed explicitly to lull them into a trancelike state that the industry refers to as “continuous gaming productivity.”
Problem gamblers are worth a lot of money to casinos. According to some research, 20 percent of regular gamblers are problem or pathological gamblers. Moreover, when they gamble, they spend—which is to say, lose—more than other players. At least nine independent studies demonstrate that problem gamblers generate anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of total gambling revenues.
Americans bet more than $37 billion every year in casinos, an amount greater than that spent on sporting events, movies, and music combined, almost all of which becomes income for the house. Add to that the the even larger numbers of people who spent $70 billion or so on far more accessible lottery tickets and you have a large population who are either extremely entertained by all that gaming. Or throwing away lots of money they can’t afford to lose. Many, many studies indicate the latter is more the case.
However, the greatest fraud in governments supporting the expansion of gambling is their claims that the tax revenues will benefit social needs like public health care and education. In most states, the new income from casinos and lotteries are legally allocated to education and similar needs. But that doesn’t mean their budgets have more money to work with.
Far too often, legislatures reduce the amount they appropriate from regular tax revenues. Why spend our money when gaming will more than make up the difference? Until that income declines, as it inevitably will. One thing I learned living in Las Vegas is that the market for people willing to throw away their money is cyclical. Just in the decade I was there, the economy, based almost entirely on gaming, was up and down like a roller coaster. Often in the same year. The same cycles impact income from all gaming systems.
I have no doubt that the casino up the road will be a big success in the short term. It’s new, it’s shiny, it’s unique in the area. Many people will fill it’s halls and spend a lot of money. But I’m betting (only with existential capital) the highs this attraction will have in it’s first couple of years, will be matched by pretty deep lows lows in other years. And Maryland schools, mental health programs, libraries, and other essential public institutions will suffer as a result.
The bottom line in all this is that governments helping to sucker people out of their money, especially from those who instead need to be investing in their future, is not a good model for society.
That headline reads like a report from the Onion Radio News. Unfortunately, it’s all true.
“This past Tuesday I went to downtown Silver Spring, had lunch, and then took out my camera and standing on Ellsworth Avenue, I began taking shots of the buildings with the blue sky and clouds as a backdrop. Almost immediately, a security guard approached and told me ‘there was no picture taking allowed in Downtown Silver Spring.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I am on a city street, in a public place — taking pictures is a right that I have protected by the first amendment.’ The guard told me to report to the management office.
“There, Stacy Horan informed me that Downtown Silver Spring including Ellsworth Avenue is private property, not a public place, and subject to the rules of the Peterson Companies. They have a no photography policy to ‘protect them from people who might want to use the photographs as part of a story in which they could write bad things about us.’ And she told me that many of the chain stores in Downtown Silver Spring don’t what their ‘concepts’ to be photographed for security reasons.”
It appears that this street, Ellswoth Avenue, in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland is, in fact, a private street.
The complete story turns out to be more complex and even more stupid.
So, where does it end? Here in the DC area, people have become downright paranoid of cameras
It’s quite likely we’ll see even more claims of legal rights to restrict photography in public spaces where no law exists, often in the name of “homeland security”.
To try and slow down this obsession with limiting individual freedoms, Chip Py, the victim in this story, and a friend have formed a flickr group called DC Photo Rights.
Others who share the outrage over this stupidity are planning a protest on the streets of Silver Spring beginning at noon on July 4th.
I don’t live anywhere near Silver Spring (I’m on the complete opposite side of the District) but I’m tempted to join them.