If you’re among the many people in Massachusetts who are unemployed or underemployed, you may have your eye on the casino industry. There are sunny predictions of more than 10,000 new jobs, and under the gaming law the state must “provide for new employment opportunities in all sectors of the economy, particularly opportunities for the unemployed.”
But don’t sign up for that on-line croupier course just yet. There’s this issue about credit checks.
It used to be that credit checks were used only by potential lenders to evaluate a borrower’s creditworthiness. But now they are increasingly used as part of employment applications, on the theory that they are a window into character.
A credit check includes not only your name, address and social security number, but also information about your mortgage, student loans, car loans, credit card history, any debts (including medical debts) that have been handed over to collection agencies, any tax liens and any bankruptcies. An editorial in the New York Times yesterday, entitled “The Credit-History Pariah Class,” cited a study by Demos finding that the people whose credit scores declined during the Great Recession were more likely to have suffered job loss, medical expenses (often in connection with job loss and sometimes so great as to lead to bankruptcy) or, in the case of persons of color whose relatively low assets made them especially vulnerable to predatory lenders, a racial discrimination of very long standing. An employment credit check in these barely-post-recessionary days is less often a window into character and more often a license to blame victims for their own misfortune or to discriminate against them because they have in the past been targets of discrimination.
So back to the casino law. While it requires the state to provide job opportunities for the unemployed, that’s a secondary purpose. The “paramount” purpose of the law is “ensuring public confidence in the integrity of the gaming licensing process and in the strict oversight of all gaming establishments through a rigorous regulatory scheme.” In other words, because this business can be infiltrated by criminals, job number one is to take every step to make sure the public doesn’t think it has been. And to that end, the law requires that anybody working in the casino industry as a state employee must get a credit check. So if you are looking for a job in the state oversight part of the casino industry — say, as in the “accounting” or “inspection” or “problem gambling” departments — you will be credit checked (as well as fingerprinted and drug tested).
And it doesn’t stop there. The casino industry itself thinks credit checks are a good idea and will not accept an employment application from someone who does not consent to one. Thus, the state’s mandate to “provide opportunities for the unemployed” in the casino industry is unraveling.
For me (an opponent of casinos), the credit report issue — plus the fact that the people with bad credit reports who wouldn’t get casino jobs would be warmly welcomed as casino patrons — is just one more reason to call the whole casino thing off.
Sidebar: the problematic use of credit reports in employment is certainly not limited to the casino industry. And in an effort to solve the problem of their widespread use, eight states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) have already enacted legislation to limit credit checks in employment, and legislation is pending in other states, including Massachusetts, where Senator Mike Barrett is the sponsor of the Senate bill, and Representative Liz Malia is the lead sponsor of the House bill.