Well placed geopolitically, the nation of Georgia has historically been coveted by its neighbors. At the junction where Europe and Asia converge, this country inspired a jealous contest among Turkey, Persia and Russia over the centuries, the last acquiring control in the 19th century. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia finally attained independence, though continuing to dispute with Russia over borders. In its liberty, Georgia has developed a robust economy which has grown well over four percent annually over the last 10 years. Heavily exploiting its energy and agricultural resources, Georgia also benefits from burgeoning tourism.
While tourism has always been a selling point, this country was not always able to maximize its attractiveness. Like many former Soviet republics, Georgial emerged from the break-up hobbling financially. Eroding infrastructure, official malfeasance, bureaucratic incompetence and a restless populace combined for a perfect storm of economic malaise. Since 2004, however, leaders put a more manageable tax code into place; fortified collection procedures; and rooted out many officials previously given to graft and bribery. The results speak for themselves. Investment is on the rise while non-governmental organizations–the World Bank, e.g.–have assisted the country in optimizing its tourism marketing and management.
Replete with rustic mountain hamlets, middle-ages monasteries and–never to be omitted–a vibrant wine country, Georgia maintains nearly 100 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage sites. With all this positive economic news, temptation still remains to add gambling to Georgia’s array of powerhouse commecial sectors. The question is: would casinos enhance an already thriving economy…or precipitate both economic and cultural decline?
The truth is that many political entities–national, provincial and local–resort to casino gambling to increase revenues and enlarge the public coffers. Scholarly evidence indicates that gambling significantly boosts employment on Native American reservations, for instance. Higher employment can lead to an expanded tax base, providing the funds for such public goods as education and infrastructure investment. In addition, longevity and health improve when more people are working. Yet these positive developments tell only half the story. The sustainability of a booming economy rests on a cultural foundation. What happens if that bedrock begins to crumble?
For one thing, crime rates grow where gambling flourishes, adding to taxpayer burdens for more police. Where casinos sit, moreover, bankruptcies increase, wreaking havoc on families and local businesses. Overhanging these societal pathologies is the growth of gambling addiction, turning previously responsible adults into reckless and profligate squanderers. Worst of all, casino spending is done at the expense of other establishments like restaurants, taverns and night clubs. Therefore, the tax revenues are not always as bountiful as advertised. Online casinos and games, such as Gonzo’s Quest and others, may or may not have this same cannibalizing effect.
In fact, most of the research on casinos centers on the brick-and-mortar variety. Some of this scholarship, nevertheless, suggests that the risk and thrill of gambling fuels the negative social consequences much more than the venue. Whether Gonzo’s Quest or other online gaming programs–which are growing exponentially–lead to this type of fallout remains to be seen. In the end, the government and business leaders of Georgia must decide whether these ills offset the economic pros of casino gambling in their country.