An Embarrassment of Riches

One of the centerpieces of the presentation when gaming is pitched to a new jurisdiction is how much it will benefit the community with better jobs and a higher level of education. Just don’t look at Las Vegas for an example.

An Embarrassment of Riches

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”—Ben Franklin

Nevada’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, published an article this past December concerning education in the Las Vegas region that seems to have escaped the attention of the gaming press. The fact that a story concerning the quality of education in Las Vegas escaped the attention of the gaming press seemed both fascinating and convenient.

The title of the article was “Las Vegas area schools ranked second-worst in the nation for quality,” and was written by Julie Wootton-Greener. The article was published on December 8, 2021, and was based on a recent study undertaken through a joint effort of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The full study referenced in Ms. Wootton-Greener’s article can be found on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute website and is titled: “America’s Best and Worst Metro Areas for School Quality.” It goes into great depth in explaining its methodologies and format, and to beat through a lot of granularity, the performance of the Las Vegas schools can be summed up with a quote by Adam Tyner, associate director of the Fordham Institute, included in the newspaper article that states: “The Las Vegas area performs really poorly across the board.” In addition, Ms. Wootton Greener also notes an additional statement by Mr. Tyner: “Las Vegas is one of the few places that looks bad at either raw academic achievement (or) growth-focused outcomes.”

The point of the article and the underlying study is that the Las Vegas region’s schools are something of a bummer. This region’s schools should be an embarrassment to the community and the gaming industry that resides there. Moreover, for those who have followed the public education situation in the Las Vegas region over the last several decades, this education product has long been a dog with fleas.

To those who don’t understand Las Vegas, if the industry cared about the educational situation in the region, it would be fixed. The reality is that the Vegas region has an educational system that sucks, and the reason it sucks is that the industry does not seem to care to invest in fixing it. There is no other plausible explanation, although I have watched the gaming companies and their politicians over the years work to create a whole variety of excuses.

I have also watched the evolution of what is known as the corporate social responsibility (CSR) discussion and its newer variant of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG). These areas have become huge in the literature with a whole science surrounding them—and I am confident that all gaming company boards are paying these topics lip service. Well, one does not need to possess a sophisticated science with all of its metrics and ratings to understand that when an industry owns a community and the politicians within it, the school system for the employees of that industry should not suck. It is that simple. This can only happen when the industry that owns a community does not care about that community, or at least the children of the workers within that community.

Las Vegas can build and support an amazing airport, great art centers, arenas, and stadiums for sports and beyond. It can offer some of the finest convention facilities in the world, host incredible entertainment events, and be on the cutting edge of architecture and design. But figuring out how to educate the children of the workers for all of these facilities is beyond its grasp? Give me a break.

I should note, the community does have some outstanding private schools, where one can often find the children of the business leaders and politicians of the region.

I doubt the Las Vegas education situation will get better. Las Vegas now has a great many of its Strip resort properties owned by an entity located in New York City, and does anyone think these folks are going to care about the educational system in Las Vegas? Is there anyone on the planet who thinks that out-of-state hedge funds, real estate investment trusts, and private equity cares about education for the workers in the Las Vegas region?

I also find it curious that many of the gaming press generally ignored this story. If there was ever a brilliant flash of the obvious, it is that Las Vegas is all about gaming. This is not a story about an area that has a casino in it that has a bad educational system—no, this is a story about an area that defines the essence of gambling that chronically has had a bad educational system. This did not happen by accident—this happened by neglect.

I also have a concern as to what the gaming press is doing. Often it looks as if they are more interested in shilling for the industry than reporting on it. If the gaming press is going to applaud the importance of low tax rates, often celebrating that Nevada possesses the lowest, they should possibly consider discussing the reality of the public services that are apparently unaffordable in those low tax rate jurisdictions.

There is also a bit of irony in the notion that gaming firms are running about California, Florida, and elsewhere suggesting that greatly expanding gaming will improve all kinds of things. I would think these firms are not too anxious to share the Las Vegas experience in education for these other jurisdictions may conclude that this industry is better at the talk than the walk.

The gaming industry is not going to be a sustainable industry by screwing its communities, plain and simple. For the center of the U.S. gaming world to turn a blind eye to the disaster that is the region’s schools is a fool’s errand. To not report it, is a sin.

The gaming industry needs to do better.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.