OPINION: We The People – Expansion of Gambling Footprint is Harmful

Legalizing gambling is bad policy at all levels of government.

We have to be realistic and understand that there are many different opinions regarding gambling and the vast majority of people likely approve what they consider “innocent” gambling, such as buying lottery tickets or playing bingo. This, most people would say, is harmless, and is widely endorsed as fun amusement that is being used to support good causes or to provide government funding that we would otherwise have to pay in taxes.

wethepeopleAs we ascend the ladder of more serious forms of gambling, a step above bingo and state lotteries (which were both approved in Texas due to the appeal of helping charities and education) is gambling in a Las Vegas or other casino. Taking a trip to Las Vegas to play the slots and other casino games has become a form of recreation for many who have the means to afford it. We can agree that most people who go to Vegas are likely not compulsive gamblers. Studies have shown that 75% of those who make infrequent trips to play the casinos account for only 4% of casino revenues. (See Sept. 24, 2013 CNN report by David Frum.) The presumption then is that the frequent, hard-core gamblers are the ones losing the most money – and thus are the real targets for the unscrupulous casino operators.

Before the 1980s, it was illegal for casinos to operate just about anywhere in the US other than Nevada. Since then, the lobbyists for casinos, pari-mutuel betting and other forms of gambling have convinced politicians to expand the footprint of gambling in many states as a means to bring in added revenue to state coffers. At least 23 states have embraced the “free money” con and now permit casinos. Proponents of expanding legalized gambling will present these venues as harmless centers of “entertainment” that provide jobs and a new revenue source for these states.

However, according to an article published in the Chicago Daily Herald, the money going into slot machines is money that is not being spent on cars, refrigerators, computers and other goods and services. Thus, local gambling halls impede, rather than spur economic growth. The article quotes Illinois professor of business John Warren Kindt, saying studies show that “around these slot machine areas we have people spending even 10 percent less on food.”

Taking issue with proponents’ theory that gambling casinos will be the economic salvation of cash-strapped states and cities, another article at casinowatch.org reports “the United States International Gambling Report series says casinos siphon money away from economies struggling to rebound, and straddle taxpayers with hefty, ongoing costs to battle crime and other social problems that gambling spawns.”

Further, the CNN report by Frum says casinos hurt local property values, according to the National Association of Realtors.

“Casinos do not revive economies,” he says. “They act as parasites upon them. Communities located within 10 miles of a casino exhibit double the rate of problem gambling. Unsurprisingly, such communities also suffer higher rates of home foreclosure and other forms of economic distress and domestic violence.”

His article also points out that before casino gambling became widespread, the normal gambler had above average income. That is not the case today, with casinos being more accessible, most casino customers are low-income workers and retirees. Thus, the burden of bearing the cost of government (funded through gambling revenues) is shifting from the affluent to the poor.

In addition, he says, it is those with lower income who often make it a weekly habit to gamble at the local casino, not the high-income earners. And it is the lower wage earner, not the wealthy, who contributes a large percentage of his income to the state’s casino revenues.

The harm that the predatory gambling industry inflicts on society is real, not merely perceived. And I have said nothing of the collateral damage gambling inflicts on society – real people, not just statistics. This collateral damage includes organized crime such as racketeering, theft, burglary and other crimes committed to pay gambling debts, alcoholism and domestic violence, harming innocent women and children.

Yes, there are certainly moral reasons to oppose increasing the footprint of legalized gambling. But for those who do not believe morality should be the basis of our laws, as they have been since this nation under God was born, there is evidence we should not be deceived by those who would disguise the vice of gambling as a cure for government’s financial woes. Beware of deceptive men who wrap themselves in the cloak of doing good for the community to justify abandoning time-proven values, while they line their pockets with money. Their motives should be warning enough to not trust the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

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