Promise of high-paying slots jobs questioned A closer look at the job creation numbers given by proponents of slot machines reveals that the average pay would be less than the regional average for all industries. BY CHRISTINA HOAG email@example.com
The campaign to put slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward parimutuels calls itself ”Yes for Better Schools and Jobs,” but a closer look at the campaign’s own study shows that the jobs in question may not be better at all.
According to the campaign ads, slot machines would lead to 18,200 ”new, good, permanent jobs” with an average annual salary of $39,100.
What the ads don’t say is that the salary projection includes benefits; actual pay would be nearly $8,000 less on average — and less than the average wage across all industries in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
The number of jobs in the ads also shifts a bit under scrutiny. Pro-slots campaign officials readily admit that the parimutuels would probably hire about 10,000 — and they can’t say how many of those would be part-time positions.
The rest of the 18,200 total, they say, would come from area hotels and restaurants, expanding to meet increased demand from slots-minded visitors.
Job creation is a pivotal argument for the seven parimutuels — dog and horse tracks and jai-alai frontons — that want to win over voters in the March 8 referendum.
”We are not a Togel workforce that is going to get Microsoft in,” said Fred Havenick, president and chief executive of Flagler Dog Track in Miami. “We care about our community. These are good jobs.”
Some would be quite good, such as accountants or human resources professionals, according to research and experience in other communities.
Most would be entry-level positions, such as parking-lot attendants or hotel housekeepers — but slots advocates point out that gambling industry jobs tend to offer benefits, training and advancement opportunities.
A 1999 study by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center found that new gambling venues alleviate unemployment but don’t do much to increase a community’s per capita income — “indicating the communities reap more jobs, but not necessarily better jobs.”
In South Florida, all of the parimutuels’ claims about job creation depend on assumptions that are by no means guaranteed — that each slot-machine center will have at least 2,500 machines; that they will be allowed to operate 24 hours a day; and that they will be taxed at a rate no higher than 34 percent.
Each of those issues would be decided later, by the Legislature that convenes next month.
Until then, voters have too little solid information, said Broward County Mayor Kristin D. Jacobs, who opposes the slots initiative.
”We are being asked to drive up a dark, curvy mountain road with our headlights off,” she said.
Economists who prepared the job estimates say they used sound, reliable economic models in their work.
”This is all very scientific,” said Barry University economist Robert D. Cruz, who wrote an economic impact study for the parimutuels. “They’re not numbers picked out of a hat.”
The number of jobs created is directly related to the number of patrons a gaming facility draws, said Steve Rittvo, president of the Innovation Group of New Orleans, which performed a market analysis of South Florida for the parimutuels.
”If you have more people coming through, that’s more wear and tear, and you’ll need more maintenance people,” he said.
The Innovation Group estimated that 26.5 million people would patronize South Florida’s new slot facilities each year, based on the region’s demographics and geography — such factors as age, race, sex, income and available entertainment options. That is an average of about 10,400 people a day per facility.
”It’s a somewhat unique market because you have a great tourist market there and a large second-home market,” Rittvo said.
Cruz, the president of Global Economic Advisors, used numbers from Rittvo’s group to estimate that the new ”racinos” would create 10,200 jobs.
That leaves 8,000 ”indirect” jobs that would be created by other businesses because of the slot machines — jobs largely related to tourism, such as at local hotels and restaurants that would see a burst of new visitors in 2006, according to Cruz’s economic impact study.
The number would also include operations by businesses such as wholesale food and beverage suppliers serving the tracks or even pawnbrokers who tend to spring up around wagering centers.
Not all businesses hit the jackpot when a new gambling venue opens. Studies have found that small businesses in surrounding areas, such as bars, restaurants, movie theaters and entertainment options plus other gambling venues, can be hit by losses.
”There’s a shift in dollars to the new facility,” Rittvo said.
Cruz’s study estimated that $600 million would shift to the parimutuels after slots, and, using an economic model, he calculated that shift as equivalent to the loss of 6,587 jobs at businesses outside the parimutuels, which he incorporated into his estimates.
Cruz stressed that the calculation is not an actual projection of job losses.
”It’s a way of accounting for the money people are not spending elsewhere,” he said.