Don't gamble with addiction

Elise T. Chisolm

January 26, 1993|By Elise T. Chisolm

Inez is angry and afraid. She is also a recovering alcoholic, as is her husband. They met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and they've both been dry for two years.

They are both mad as hell because the state's new gambling machine, keno, is here.

"When I gave up drinking, we both took to gambling. I had to have something social to do, and bingo and placing bets on the horse races seemed like fun and gave us the thrill we needed," she says.

"Oh, we don't gamble a lot, we just spend time at a local bar and eatery where we love the chili, subs and the bingo. We make only small bets, really small. But now there's the keno machine glaring at us, and sure, it beckons."

Inez (not her real name) wants to tell people about the dangers of keno, Maryland's new electronic bingo-like gambling game.

"It's just another form of lottery to pay off the State of Maryland's budget shortfall. But it is also a Catch-22. Only people with small incomes will play, the ones who can't afford it. You don't win big, but you can play every 5 minutes. For the real hard-core gambler it has been proven not worth their time. But for people like me, it will be just enough excitement. Already I have seen many young people who are playing while ordering beers and more beers."

Even though the public never voted, somehow keno cut through its opponents' views and was installed in hundreds of places. Keno supporters are billing it as a panacea for making money for the state and the tavern owner who has the machine.

"To people who aren't alcoholics, it will make them stay a little longer at the pub, and it will induce them to spend money they can't afford -- it's profiting by someone else's misery," she adds.

A spokesman for the American Council on Alcoholism tells me that he does not think keno will exacerbate the consumption of alcohol, but it could become an excuse for alcoholics to continue their denial, the hallmark of their problem. Remember, any excuse will do.

I called Gamblers Anonymous. A former gambler called me back and said he'd been recovered for years. He said that compulsive gamblers like keno because of the action; every five minutes, the instant high that gamblers crave.

"I got hooked at a race track 24 years ago. I ruined my life, lost my family and my home, and I had to start life over again. I see keno as a snare and a delusion -- bad. More women are playing it, and there goes the grocery money," said the former gambler.

So there must be another way to help the state out of its hole, as in more user fees and cutting the waste in state government. Come on.

Plan another cigarette tax hike, now that we know there is killer smoke for even the non-smoker.

I don't know the answer.

There must be another way.

In one of our neighborhood taverns, where they sell great chili, during the first week of keno there were many more people in the bar, yelling, drinking and playing keno. Is this what we want? The owner told me he did.

Will Maryland become known as a great gambling palace?

It's a terrible idea whose time should not have come.

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