Hwang hosts forum on gambling in state


State Rep. Tony Hwang recently participated in a gambling forum at Pequot Library. Show, from left, are RTM Moderator Jeff Steele, library Executive Director Martha Lord, Hwang and author and former Congressman Bob Steele.

State Rep. Tony Hwang served as a legislative panelist on an informational forum on how gambling impacts our local communities at the Pequot Library on Sept. 17.

Hwang is the ranking member of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, which oversees Indian Tribal Compacts. He is also a member of Public Safety and Security Committee, which oversees gambling in Connecticut. Hwang’s committee experience in the Connecticut General Assembly provides a hands-on legislative perspective on how current governmental policies on gambling will impact our communities.

Hwang joined author and former Congressman Bob Steele in discussing and answering questions on a broad range of gambling-related issues affecting Connecticut, from the state’s currently declining casino revenue to proposed keno, video slots, Internet gambling and the potential societal costs of addiction and broken lives within our communities.

“Gambling has been discussed as a revenue solution in our state’s difficult economic environment but we need to be cautiously weary to evaluate the unintended societal consequences of such a path of sanctioned gambling within our state borders,” Hwang said. “The search for easy money in gambling revenue is a risk that may far outweigh the potential damage to our quality of life. The anticipated long term financial gains of gambling may also be a mirage of a false gold rush that is the basis for many gambling games of chance.”

Steele is vice chairman of an international marketing agency and has been a director of numerous companies, including the American Stock Exchange. A graduate of Amherst College and Columbia University, he served in the CIA and was a candidate for governor of Connecticut. He is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from Sacred Heart University.

Steele began the program by discussing the background to his new novel, The Curse: Big-Time Gambling’s Seduction of a Small New England Town, which has been receiving wide attention throughout New England because of the rapid expansion of casino-type gambling in the region.

“I hope this book will serve as a cautionary tale about bringing casino gambling into other towns and communities,” Steele said. “Connecticut’s slots revenue has been down now for 20 consecutive months, and the increasing saturation of Northeast casino markets means expanded gambling is an economic and social dead end for Connecticut. The country’s leading economic expert on the subject says that the long-term cost-to-benefit ratio of casinos — including addiction, broken families, lost productivity and crime — is greater than 3-1, that’s $3 in costs for every dollar of benefits.

“Now our governor is doubling down with the establishment of Keno and the possibility of Internet gambling,” he said. “Internet gambling would put a casino in every home, apartment and smartphone in Connecticut.”

In the last days of the legislative session, Gov. Dannel Malloy and the majority leadership pushed through an additional misery tax and authorized a new form of gambling game called Keno. Keno is often played at modern casinos, and is also offered as a game in some state lotteries. Malloy claims it will produce $31 million in its first two years.

Keno was never properly vetted during the committee process, discussed by the appropriate committees, included in the legislative budget or proposed at any time until the final budget document was made public on the day of the vote. There are still many questions and reservations regarding the process, the agreements and any subsequent discussions that have occurred as a result of the legislation.

Quinnipiac University took a poll on Keno that showed a majority of residents are opposed to legalizing electronic keno gambling. Mary Drexler, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, has called the legislators’ decision to legalize keno “astounding,” given data showing gambling can create more problems than it solves.

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