America's Gambling Mania

September 14, 1993

The whole country is giddy over gambling. More than 20 states have casinos, 37 states offer lotteries and five have started riverboat gambling. The mayors of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., want to join the parade. Texas is eyeing casinos on the Gulf of Mexico.

Native Americans have been especially adept at capitalizing on this craze. More than half the nation's Indian reservations have legalized gaming, bringing in $6 billion in business each year. The Mashantucket Pequot tribe, with a scant 200 members, raked in profits of $20 million in June from one Connecticut casino.

Meanwhile, Mississippi riverboat gambling is sweeping the Midwest. New Orleans is attracting giant gaming companies to a city known for its high-rolling ways. And the grand-daddy of U.S. gambling, Las Vegas, is in the midst of billion-dollar investments in lavish entertainment complexes (roaring volcanoes, white .

tigers, pyramids and pirate's islands) centered around casino tables.

This country always has had a fondness for wagering: lotteries helped finance the Revolutionary War and underwrote much of the public works projects following the destruction of the Civil War. But scandals erupted that shamed politicians into banning such legal ventures.

Now these prohibitions are being lifted. Cash-hungry governments jump at these new ways to raise money without raising taxes. Huge leisure corporations have propagandized relentlessly to convince us gambling is just a form of entertainment. New, high-tech video machines make gambling simple and easy for virtually everyone.

Still, there are serious negatives. Criminals and the underworld are heavily involved in all aspects of gaming operations. Having a casino may have no impact on local economic development; in fact, gambling may deter businesses from locating in the area. An estimated 10 percent of lottery players are addicted. Think how legalized keno, craps and video poker will swell their ranks.

Casino players are now losing $1 billion a month. That's $1 billion people can't spend on new homes, new cars, new appliances or new clothes. It is $1 billion that will never be put away in a savings account or invested in the stock market. Gambling is morally corrupting. It is a fiscally unwise bet for governments. It is a con game too many Americans believe will make them rich.

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