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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Looney Rooney off base on gambling stance

24 May 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- After curmudgeon commentator Andy Rooney slammed the casino industry a week ago on the CBS show "60 Minutes," gaming lobbyists took a pass taking him to task for the remarks.

I won't.

Rooney, who sounded like the crazy uncle relegated to the family basement, reported on the American Gaming Association's annual "State of the States" survey. The study found that casinos in 13 states collected $30.74 billion from gamblers in 2009, a 5.5 percent decrease from $32.54 billion in 2008.

With unemployment at record levels and the economy in crisis, Rooney observed that people are gambling less.

"There's some good things about everything, I guess," Rooney said.

That's just common sense. If you're out of work and on a tight budget, gambling is not an option.

My difference with Rooney is when he ripped casino employees.

"I mean, who's best for this country, a machinist at an automobile plant in Detroit or a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas?" he asked.

Well, it depends on where you draw that paycheck.

At last count there were some 102,000 auto workers in Michigan, far more than the 8,122 workers employed at Detroit's three casinos. But the jobs are equally important. Gaming workers earned $452.8 million in wages, benefits and tips in 2009 and casinos paid the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit $320 million in gaming taxes.

Similar stories were repeated throughout the country.

More than 328,000 casino workers earned $13.1 billion in wages, benefits and tips nationwide. Casinos in those states paid gaming taxes of almost $5.6 billion.

Maybe that's why Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Delaware, Kansas and Maryland are increasing their gaming footprints. Ohio plans to open casinos by 2012 and other states, such as Texas and Massachusetts, are exploring casino proposals.

Rooney believes "gambling produces nothing." He would rather see Americans spend money on products from U.S.-based manufacturing companies.

Slot machines and other gaming devices are manufactured and distributed mostly by American companies, including Nevada-based International Game Technology, Bally Technologies, Shuffle Master, Illinois-based WMS Industries and countless small businesses .

In all, equipment manufacturers employed some 30,000 workers in 2009. Almost half of those jobs were in Nevada.

Families supported by those jobs might think they were pretty good for the country.