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Societal ills caused by gambling recounted at national conference

ST. LOUIS (BP)–Gambling can destroy communities and an entire nation, psychologists, educators and United States senators warned at the conference of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling and National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion in St. Louis.
The Sept. 18-20 meeting at the Sheraton-West Port Inn was within a mile of several “boats in moats,” large casino complexes operating without state sanction in manmade basins adjacent to the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and whose fate will be determined in the Nov. 3 Missouri general election.
. U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, R.-Mo., said communities embrace gambling because they’re buying into a lie, a quick-fix mentality which results in bankruptcy, higher crime and personal destruction.
“Gambling is not an industry but a parasite, taking money from the poor and redistributing it to the rich promoters and a few winners,” said Ashcroft, who is expected to be a candidate for the U.S. presidency in the year 2000.
Noting casinos are still operating in Missouri a year after the Missouri Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional, Ashcroft said, “We will never get casino owners to agree with us politically, but we must get them to obey the law.”
“For every dollar received in taxes from gambling, socioeconomic expenses caused by gambling total at least $3,” said John W. Kindt, professor of commerce and legal policy at the University of Illinois, Champaign.
“The ABCs of gambling are addiction, bankruptcies and crime and corruption,” Kindt said. “While drug-abuse problems are costing the U.S. $70 billion per year and going down, gambling abuse is costing the U.S. $80 billion per year and rising.”
Kindt said pathological gamblers — between 3 percent and 8 percent of the population — almost always resort to crime to support and cover their gambling habits.
“The 35-mile radius or ‘feeder area’ around casinos experience a 100 percent increase in crime following the opening of a casino,” he said.
He warned national security may be in jeopardy because of the growing number of U.S. military personnel who have become pathological or problem gamblers.
Former Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, who sponsored the bill that led to the National Gambling Impact Study Committee, which is expected to report its findings this fall,
deplored governments using a lottery to raise funds for education.
Noting the relationships between gambling and bankruptcy and gambling and crime, he said, “It is morally reprehensible to take advantage of some people who will become addicts.”
Simon, who now heads the Institute for Public Policy at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, urged concerned citizens to “put candidates on the spot concerning gambling, use referendums and support campaign finance reform.”
Simon said something is wrong if, in spite of the fact that the economy is doing well, bankruptcies in the United States continue to increase, and he noted the “fastest-growing legal business in our country is gambling. That should tell us something.
“This is the only addiction that government promotes. If we saw a billboard that said, ‘Drink more whiskey, have a great time,’ and the state of Illinois was paying for it, we would be shocked. Yet we see lottery advertisements all the time.”
Simon faulted government leaders for looking to gambling as an easy fix for difficult economic problems, but he understood their predicaments. “Go to the poorest sections of Chicago or St. Louis, and you will see thousands of people buying lottery tickets.
“I hear that gambling money helps good causes. Well, I must confess, there are areas where I understand that that answer might look tempting — areas like East St. Louis, or the Indian reservations,” Simon said. “But the answer, my friends, is for people who care to pay attention to the problems of East St. Louis and the problems of Indian reservations. Don’t force them to reach out in desperation to gambling.”
Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the wave has crested for organized gambling because of the efforts of groups such as NCALG and NCAGE.
“Compulsive gamblers are a growing embarrassment, but they are the people gamblers depend upon to make their money,” Duke said.
He urged anti-gambling forces to use the most current and correct data in countering claims of the gambling industry that economies have been helped by gambling, to establish clinics to train anti-gambling activists and to elect public officials who oppose all forms of gambling.
Bob Fuesel, director of the Illinois State Crime Commission, emphasized “the devastation that gambling does to the business community” and said “legalization of casinos fueled the renaissance of organized crime.”
“Any increase of legal gambling increases the base of illegal gambling. At a time when violent crime is still at an all-time high, gang crime is running rampant and the limited resources of law enforcement are stretched to the breaking point, it is inconceivable that state governments even consider gambling as a solution to financial problems.”
Three of the nation’s leading psychologists on gambling’s impact on the family warned against buying into the gambling industry’s efforts to tie compulsive gambling to genetic factors.
“Without doubt, the strongest contributing factor is the family,” said psychologist Valerie Lorenz of Baltimore.
Calling compulsive gambling “the most serious of all addictions,” Lorenz said, “I don’t know of any compulsive gambler who came from a stable family situation. About 65 percent of the fathers of compulsive gamblers have a history of alcoholism, and their mothers often have a history of depression in which they’re not there for their children.”
Psychologist Durand Jacobs of Redlands, Calif., said the numbers of juveniles in trouble because of gambling will increase in the late 1990s and early years of the new millennium unless conditions change.
Jacobs, whose studies were the first to describe the extent and nature of gambling among high-school-age youth and to document the special vulnerability of children whose parents gambled excessively, said the rates of problem gamblers among kids are two to four times greater than adults.
Studies show more than 30 percent of children had gambled for money before the age of 11,” Jacobs said. “During the past year, more than 14 million juveniles have gambled, and 2 million have serious gambling-related problems.”
Another psychologist, Dennis McNeilly, a Jesuit priest, said studies show 60 percent of Americans over 65 gamble as a social pastime, but there is a growing number, especially women, with gambling disorders.
Marketing by the gambling industry is contributing to the problem, he said. For example, a casino gave senior adults a Players Club Card, promising 50 percent off some prescription drugs.
Responding to the conference theme of “Americans Fight Back,” about 150 anti-gambling volunteers from most states of the nation pledged all-out efforts during a stirring charge by their executive director, Tom Grey of Hanover, Ill.
“The only way to save our communities is to save our nation,” Grey said. “We don’t attack people who gamble (eight out of 10 do it), but we get those who do it to vote with us by showing them it’s not good economics, not good public policy and not good for quality of life.
“An informed electorate will walk to the ballot box and reject these predators. Truth has always been with us. We’ll take the gambling industry’s promises of jobs, revenue and entertainment and force them out into a situation that neutralizes their money and muscle.”
Weston Ware, director of citizenship education for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and one of the founders of NCALG, was re-elected to its executive board. New board members include Paul Jones, executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Christian Action Commission, and Richard Blankenship, communications director of Texans Against Gambling.
Next year’s NCALG/NCAGE meeting will be Oct. 8-10 in Jackson, Miss.

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  • Orville Scott