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Gambling in U.S. more destructive than previously thought, speakers say

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–Recent studies — some by the gambling industry itself — reveal that gambling is even more destructive to society and individuals than previously known, according to psychologists and university professors speaking at the annual conference of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling in Jackson, Miss., Sept. 24-26.
Keynote speaker Kay Coles James, who chaired the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, told about 200 conference participants she was not prepared for the venom, bigotry, prejudice and stereotyping she experienced in leading the congressional study commission on the social and economic impact of gambling in America.
James, a senior fellow of Heritage Foundation in Norfolk, Va., said she had endured more bigotry and intolerance as a religious conservative leading the congressional study on gambling than she had as a black woman in corporate America.
James said she never took on the mantle as an advocate against legalized gambling until she had completed her responsibilities as chair of the nine-member study committee appointed by the then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and President Bill Clinton.
She challenged church, anti-gambling advocates and religious leaders to study and challenge the moral impact of legalized gambling on America, pointing out that the congressional committee she chaired only dealt with the social and economic impact of gambling.
Weston Ware of Dallas, director of citizenship education for the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission, was elected chairperson of NCALG.
Welcoming conference participants to Mississippi, James Futral of Jackson, executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, said Mississippi — known as the hospitality state — has welcomed both kudzu (a rapidly growing vine which can be used to prevent soil erosion) and casino gambling to Mississippi, and both have pretty much taken over the state.
“We would be a lot better off without either,” Futral observed.
Robert Goodman, professor at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, presented an analysis of the final report of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which was released by James’ committee in August.
Goodman said studies show that having a gambling facility within 50 miles roughly doubles problem gambling, and he noted that problems of pathological gamblers are likely to be underestimated.
“Government is engaged in activity which depends on people with behavioral problems,” Goodman said, noting that a third of the revenue from casino gambling comes from people with behavioral problems.
National figures show that criminal justice costs alone are about $5,000 a year per pathological gambler, he said.
University of Illinois professor John Kindt said the crime costs of 1.5 million new pathological gamblers, which governments created from 1994-97, are at least $15 billion to $34 billion.
“For every $1 of benefits, gambling costs $3,” he said, noting that most conservative combined regulatory and crime costs are between $9,000 and $11,000 per pathological gambler per year.
Another speaker, Earl Grinols, economics professor at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, said his studies suggest that casino gambling costs about $150 per adult for every $39 in social benefits.
He said his studies reveal that one-third and sometimes as much as one-half of casino revenues come from pathological and problem gamblers.
Violent crime rates in casino counties begin to rise dramatically about three years after a casino opens in the county, and overall crime rates in counties with casinos are 8 percent higher than they would be without casinos, Grinols said.
Nevada, where Las Vegas is located, had double the national average in suicides and ranked first in the United States in child death by abuse and had the highest dropout rate in public schools, he added.
Kindt said a 1997study showed that gambling abuse outweighed drug abuse with more than 15 million pathological or problem gamblers compared to 13.2 million illicit drug users.
He said 3.5 million people, or 2 percent of Americans, became new problem gamblers from 1994-97 at an annual cost to taxpayers of $35 billion. During the same period, 2.2 million new pathological gamblers were created at a cost to taxpayers of $45 billion per year, for a combined total of $80 billion per year.
By comparison, drug abuse cost taxpayers $70 billion per year, he said.
Kindt said studies show that 25 to 50 percent of gambling revenues come from pathological and problem gamblers, and 5 percent of lottery players are buying 51 percent of the tickets.
Valorie Lorenz, executive director of the Compulsive Gambling Center in Baltimore, said the scope of problem and pathological gamblers is greater than anyone had thought.
“We can only hope to prevent gambling from expanding, because the numbers of pathological gamblers are growing with the expansion of the gambling industry,” said Lorenz, a researcher and therapist for 27 years.
As a result of the expansion of legalized gambling, she said, America must expect more emergency rooms treating gamblers who sought relief by suicide and correctional systems taxed beyond belief by the stresses of the pathological gambling disorder.
To pay their gambling debts, said Lorenz, society must expect some of the gamblers to resort to crimes such as illicit drug sales, armed robbery and insurance fraud.
She said the number of Gamblers Anonymous Chapters in the United States has tripled in the past seven years.
“Compulsive gambling is a democratic illness that could strike anyone, including you and me in this room,” she said.
Studies show that the greatest increase of pathological gamblers is among minorities, young people and the elderly, Lorenz said.
John Eades, director of human resources for the city of Winchester, Tenn., said a seemingly innocent gambling outing with friends resulted in his becoming addicted to gambling.
“I lost everything I had,” he said.
In desperation, he decided to shoot himself but was diverted by discovering that his wife had sold his gun to pay the light bill.
“My wife took an overdose of prescription drugs and we had to have her stomach pumped out because my addiction was driving her crazy,” Eades said. Fortunately she survived. When their youngest daughter also attempted suicide by overdose but miraculously survived, Eades gave his life to God and uses his spare time to warn people that “the bridge of gambling leads nowhere.”
“If we as states can only support ourselves by standing on the shattered souls of problem gamblers and their families, we’ve sunk to an all-time low,” Eades said.
Attorney Ben C. Toledano of Pass Christian, Miss., stressed the necessity of greater citizen involvement to insure responsible statesmanship in the legislative process.
“If politicians are unaffected by money, why does the gambling industry give them money?” Toledano asked. “The best government money can buy depends upon an informed electorate. I condemn the practice of treating elected officials with any more respect than or deference than we treat the boy who takes our groceries to the parking lot.”
Michael Bowman, director of state and local affairs for the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., said a Gallup poll showed 55 percent of Americans believe legalized gambling is creating problem gamblers and 55 percent believe casinos hurt the community as a whole.
He urged concerned citizens to “win back our culture” by banning collegiate sports betting, adopting strict restrictions on contributions to government officials, restricting Internet gambling, getting out of convenience gambling and allowing state laws to apply truth in advertising on state-sponsored lotteries.
Barbara Knickelbein of Maryland, Diane Berlin of Pennsylvania, Oklahoma state Rep. Forest Claunch and Glenn Thompson, executive director of “Stand Up for Kansas,” said grassroots efforts by churches and concerned volunteers has held back the tide of legalized gambling in their states.
Thompson said the Kansas Supreme Court ruled lotteries are synonymous with gambling.
Thompson publishes a weekly newsletter, “Casino Alert,” and delivers it to each legislator’s office.
“Kansas is winning with volunteer labor, a modest budget and irrefutable facts,” he said.
Claunch said Oklahoma, which has the highest per capita population of Native Americans, has turned down legalized gambling because he and others are educating legislators and voters with the facts about gambling.

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  • Orville Scott