Dangerous addiction

Forum Extra

January 06, 1993|By C. Bruce Revel

DO Maryland state government officials have a new mott that paraphrases Will Rogers' famous line, "I never met a lottery game I didn't like!"?

After the endless parade of lottery games -- pick 3, pick 4, pick 5, lotto, various instant games and the failed "el gordo" -- now we have keno. This latest food for Marylanders' seemingly insatiable gambling hunger was rammed through the state Board of Public Works on Dec. 2. While most of us were busy doing our Christmas shopping, the state was installing keno equipment at 600 bars and other locations around the state.

Keno, a casino-style game that began Monday, takes the lottery madness to a new extreme. It operates 19 hours per day, with a new set of winning numbers drawn every five minutes. That gives players 228 opportunities each day to donate their money to the state of Maryland.

Officials estimate keno will produce $50 million for the state in its first year. Gov. William Donald Schaefer is quoted as saying, "There is nothing else in my mind we can do."

Are we so destitute morally, so lacking in ideas, that this is the best we can do, that this is all we can do? It is a disgrace to the state of Maryland and our citizens that we have become so dependent on gambling revenues for civic survival.

It has been shown time and again that state lotteries are regressive taxes on the poorest and least educated. If you doubt that, notice where the majority of lottery outlets are located. The lottery profits from offering false hope to those most in need.

There are many who are seriously concerned about keno. Those who counsel gambling addicts fear this game could draw many more families into the spiral of suffering produced by gambling addiction.

Perhaps the governor and his friends thought Christians in Maryland would be unwilling to oppose keno after the bitter defeat many of us suffered with Question 6 in November. Perhaps they assumed the "slowly boiling frog" principle applied in this case: We've been gradually exposed to all kinds of state-sponsored gambling, so that we have no sensitivity left for keno.

We should prove them wrong on all counts. I believe concerned Marylanders must make ourselves heard on this matter. The first step should be to demand that the full legislature take up the keno contract. It should not be decided by a small committee such as the Board of Public Works. Contact your senator and delegate right now and insist that keno be suspended until it is debated in full -- in public.

Second, become familiar with the spiritual and biblical perspectives on gambling. The cash flow generated by state-sponsored gambling is not all profit. There are personal and social consequences of this method of government financing that should make us very uneasy.

Third, I believe this is the time to look at the larger problem. We must require government leadership and citizens to take an in-depth look at the entire structure of state services. I am sympathetic to the state's budget crisis. On one hand, no one wants higher taxes. On the other, everyone says, "Don't cut my services. Cut someone else's!"

We who oppose keno specifically and state-sponsored gambling general must be willing to offer viable alternatives. This is what Governor Schaefer has said all along, and he is right. It means we must take the lead in accepting fewer services from government. Families, churches and other civic organizations must once again accept primary responsibility for meeting the needs of those in our communities. Also, we must be willing to pay the full cost of the services that we require.

We are blessed to have some of the greatest universities in the world in Maryland. We also have a thoughtful population with an abundance of common sense. Let's draw upon these Marylanders to get fresh ideas about government.

Maryland likes to be a leader. Once we were a leader in the implementing of lottery games. Now let's take the lead in ending the dependence of governments on gambling revenues. We can do better.

C. Bruce Revel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Cambridge.

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