NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A push to expand gambling in several states to alleviate financial woes represents a “lack of willingness” to deal with tough economic issues and will result in an increased number of problem gamblers if implemented, according to a public policy expert for the Southern Baptist Convention.
In April the Maryland House of Delegates — one of the state’s two legislative bodies — rejected a plan by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to allow horse racetracks to put slot machines on their property. Two-fifths of the money would have been kept by the tracks.
Now, Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch says the slot machines could be put on government property, allowing the state to run the slots and keep all the money, according to The Washington Post.
But Maryland isn’t the only state considering new forms of gambling. In fact, 37 states are considering gambling-related bills this year to help end their respective state’s financial shortages, according to U.S. News & World Report. Alabama, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York are just four of the states that have been in the news recently debating the issue.
Additional gambling will lead to “more problem gamblers” and all the “social and economic problems” that follow, said Barrett Duke, vice president for research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“The government should not put itself in a place where it is preying on people’s weaknesses,” he said.
The 1999 National Gambling Impact Study Commission report supports Duke’s claims. The study said that as the access to gambling increases, so do the number of problem gamblers. The report cited a study that found that “the presence of a gambling facility within 50 miles” of a particular city “roughly doubles the prevalence or problem and pathological gamblers.” The same study also found that “some of the greatest increases” in the number of problem gamblers occurred when “gambling opportunities in the states” increased.
In states that allow gambling, 3 to 5 percent of the adult population is addicted to gambling, U.S. News & World Report noted.
The state of Maryland and other states should deal with their economic problems in a “more responsible manner,” Duke said. Slot machines would provide “temporary relief at best” and they reflect a “lack of willingness” to tackle the financial woes head-on. Expanding gambling would simply be putting a “Band-Aid” on a “serious problem.”
Opponents say that gambling does not increase the flow of money into a state. Instead, it simply leads people to spend their money elsewhere. For example, instead of spending $50 at the mall, a person instead may spend that money at the local casino. A 1998 Focus on the Family article by Ronald A. Reno seems to support that argument. In one instance, researchers at Iowa State University found that 29 percent of businesses near a riverboat casino in Clinton, Iowa, reported losing business. Twelve percent reported an increase in business, while 60 percent reported no change.
Duke is moving his family to the Washington, D.C., area this summer so that he can work fulltime in the ERLC’s Washington office. He said the outcome on the slot machine debate could have a “significant impact” on whether he lives in Maryland or Virginia.
While Maryland legislators defeated a plan to place slots at racetracks, legislators in Ohio and Pennsylvania are considering similar proposals. Even if it is placing gambling devices on property where gambling already takes place, it is a bad idea, Duke said. “Slot machines will not attract only those who are already gambling,” he said. “Slot machines will produce another group of gamblers who prefer to gamble on slot machines rather than racehorses.”