NEW ORLEANS (BP)–I am in the gambling business. I don’t like it, and I want to stop.
But I am a citizen of Louisiana. My state is reaping a financial windfall from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Some of the FEMA checks and insurance money that were given to help our citizens recover are pouring into the state treasury by way of our state-sponsored gambling business.
As a citizen of this state, I am prospering in some measure because 200,000 of my fellow citizens have a serious problem with gambling. And I am profiting because the gambling addiction is even more pronounced in the wake of the storms.
The fact that my state encourages and sponsors this predatory business makes me sad. I’d rather we paid for state government in some other way. State-sponsored gambling is a regressive tax that funds government largely through the broken dreams and financial distress of our poorest citizens.
Louisiana promotes the financial ruin of vulnerable individuals in times of crisis with alluring television advertisements that promise big rewards for gambling. Most of us, including the gamblers, know that the odds of attaining wealth through the state-sponsored lottery are miniscule. But the same people keep giving us their dough because they are chained to a pipe dream that will not die. For some people, gambling is the only hope they see for restoring their fortunes after the storm.
I know it is easy money for us. They form long lines at the convenience stores every payday and give our state their hard-earned cash. Many of them do without life’s necessities so they can answer our tease and take their long shot at the pot of gold.
For my part, I’d prefer they buy their medications and diapers and pay the rent. Surely that money so easily redirected into the state treasury represents a tangible cost to our families and our society. Who picks up the tab when gambling addicts spend their wad on lottery tickets instead of groceries? When you’re in the gambling business, as we are, you can’t just ignore that.
I feel a little better about it all now that we have our gambler’s helpline. I understand their phone is ringing off the wall since Katrina — calls reportedly are up by 40 percent. It is a little like operating an emergency room for a sickness we are spreading. I guess this makes sense to somebody.
Once you set up this business, it’s hard to get rid of it. It’s a lot easier to start than to stop — sort of like gambling itself. We have state employees now whose jobs depend on our gambling games. Everyone knows that the real winner in gambling is the house — and that means our state government. Even if you see the carnage, it’s hard to stop. When the easy money starts pouring in, your conscience can justify just about anything.
The terrible hurricanes and their aftermath have helped us change some fundamental mistakes in our governance, including the consolidation of levee boards and Orleans Parish tax assessment.
I think state-sponsored gambling is a fundamental mistake for our state. I cringe every time I hear our happy gambling songs. As a pastor, I see the ugly underside of this lie more than most. If we can’t wean ourselves completely, could we at least stop the state-sponsored recruitment program?
David E. Crosby is pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans.