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July 24, 2021

Economic Development: Worth The Gamble?
When people play the slots they begin by inserting money into a gaudy, shiny machine. The game is activated as soon as the player pushes a button which sets off a cacophony of bells accompanied by multi-colored flashing lights and whirling symbols. When the clanging stops, it is revealed whether or not the player has won any money. That's the object of the game. To win money. It's important to note that the game requires no skill. Playing the game may create an illusion of skill, but it's really nothing more than a game of chance.

You see, slot machines are programmed to pay out a percentage of the money wagered by the players. Minimum theoretical payout percentages vary by type of machine and by jurisdiction since the percentages are typically established by regulation.

There are many different types of slot machines and they all have different odds of winning. In order to illustrate theoretical payout percentages of a slot machine, let's look at a hypothetical example.

Let's suppose a slot machine (we'll call it "Lucky 13") has been programmed with 13 possible payouts ranging from a ratio of 1:1 to 2,400:1. I won't list all 13 payout ratios, but let's say the machine has a win frequency that looks something like this:

A payout of 1:1 occurs once every 8 plays

A payout of 5:1 occurs once every 33 plays

A payout of 80:1 occurs once every 219 plays

A payout of 2:1 occurs once every 600 plays

A payout of 150:1 occurs once every 6,241 plays

A payout of 2,400:1 occurs once every 262,144 plays

Notice that the likelihood of winning does not increase proportionate to the number of times the machine is played. Also notice that the odds of winning are calculated to create just enough excitement to keep the player in the game.

A player who continues to feed money into a slot machine might experience several midsize payouts but the player is unlikely to win a large payout. Also keep in mind that most players who hit a midsize 80:1 payout started the game with at least 80 times the amount of the winning bet. The reason I mention this is because most players are happy to crow about the occasions when they win at slots, and sometimes they like to talk about the occasions when they came close to winning. Yet these same players are usually reluctant to talk about the amount of cash they spend every year in their never-ending attempts to win big money.

Your odds of hitting the big jackpot are the same every time you push the button. So it doesn't matter if you spend one dollar, one time, and then go home; or if you sit at the machine all day long and spend $10,000, because your odds of winning won't change.

You could spend your life savings on the slots but your odds of winning won't change. If you received a multi-million dollar windfall and decided to spend 60% to 80% of it on the slots, your odds of winning won't change a bit.

By the way, this is not an anti-gambling article. Truth be told, I've dropped a few dollars in slot machines on occasion. And I enjoy betting on the ponies every now and then because it's fun and entertaining.

This article is really about local economic development.

Government officials from both Shelby County and the City of Shelbyville recently announced proposals outlining how they intend to spend millions of dollars worth of racino revenues that are currently flowing into their respective treasuries. The guidelines call for spending from 60% to 80% of the racino windfall on economic development.

That means the city could spend an additional $2 million on economic development every year. And the county could spend an additional $3.5 million on economic development every year. Did I mention those amounts are every year? Remember too, that Shelby County adopted an Economic Development Income Tax in 1992 specifically to pay for a new criminal justice center. That building was paid off eight months ago, which should free up a few more million dollars for... ummm... for what? Hey! I know!! How about for economic development!

Okay, so here's the reason why I started this article with a discussion of slot machines. It seems to me that we've poured a lot of money into the Economic Development Game for a very long time. But how many jackpots have we won? And how much have we spent to play the game? Anyone? Anyone at all?

By the way (again), this is not an anti-economic development article, either. Because despite scathing charges to the contrary from a couple of local blowhards, I am not, nor have I ever been, against community economic development.

However, maybe we're already spending enough money on economic development. Maybe it's just like playing a slot machine where no matter how much you pour into the machine, your odds of winning aren't going to change one bit.

Maybe it's time to play a different game.

Frankly, the racino revenue spending proposals from both the city and the county were disappointing. We've been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create something very special, something unique, that could have a lasting impact on the community and its people. I don't see any evidence that our elected officials are up to the challenge.

Therefore, I suggest that none of the money should be spent by either Shelby County or the City of Shelbyville. Not a dime.

Instead, let's turn the money over to the Blue River Foundation. The foundation is a broad-based group of local people who are clearly concerned about the entire community. I'm confident they'll be able to come up with a thoughtful, creative proposal that will increase the odds of providing long-term benefits.

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, April 19, 2010
Article comment by: Whatever!

I surely hope that you were just being sarcastic about giving the $$$ to the Blue River Community Foundation -- BRCF is run by the Mayor's wife and this whole thing about the BRCF getting their hands in the cookie jar was suggested by a local lawyer in town. hmmmmm???

Posted: Friday, March 19, 2010
Article comment by: just wondering.........

let's see.....80% of the casino revenues to economic development....I think I smell a $2,000,000 church for the city and an unnecessary sewage treatment plant for Fairland. I wonder if anyone thought of diverting some to the schools in order to give the property tax payers a little break.

Posted: Friday, March 19, 2010
Article comment by: No newspaper in this town

I notice that our local so-called newspaper is applauding the proposed economic development uses for the casino money.

This, when the newspaper should be - and is not - asking tough questions about what this economic development proposal would actually mean regarding the use of these prized casino dollars.

You want to know the REAL news around here? Read

Posted: Friday, March 19, 2010
Article comment by: Just Duckey


You only drew four of our Coucil members in your cartoon. Which members did you choose to leave out and why? They all act like trained monkeys so it is hard to tell whos who.
Thanks for keeping us updated with the real news going on in such a witty & sharp way. Keep that art a coming - there's no advertisers around here to piss off - just grateful fans!

Posted: Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Article comment by: Apostle Paul

In reference to the City Council's action as reported in The Shelbyville News today:

"Economic development" is a vague and ambiguous term. What does it really mean in practical terms?

I take it to mean lining a bunch of executives' pockets for promised job creation that may not have tangible results for another 10 years or more.

In the meantime, Shelbyville has many immediate and urgent needs and the quality of life is plummeting in this community for many families.

Helping local charities help so many of our struggling citizens right now is not a major priority in the council's discussions.

Also, it is obvious from the quotes in the news article that existing struggling local businesses are also going to be pointed to the back seat on the bus.

And on it goes in this town of distorted governmental values....

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