Gambling: a National Addiction

September 17, 1995

Good for Sen. Dick Lugar. While other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination are competing with one another in fervency on the abortion issue, the right-to-life, anti-abortion Indiana senator has assailed the nation's gambling craze as a phenomenon that undermines "Cal Ripken values of hard work, patience, human achievement and personal responsibility."

Mr. Lugar's message should hit home in Maryland because he attacked both state-sponsored lotteries which proclaim that "wealth is only a play away" and casinos that lead to "sharp increases in organized crime activities, prostitution, illegal drugs, family abuse, personal bankruptcy, divorce, pathological gambling and suicide."

The Maryland Lottery has been around enough years to make state government addicted to its revenues. This disguised tax is hard on lower-income citizens who cannot afford to lose milk money. Casino gambling is promoted by lobbyists waging a double-barreled campaign to entice hard-strapped communities like Cambridge and Baltimore and gullible legislators in Annapolis. It could be the gut issue of the 1996 General Assembly.

Senator Lugar's criticism took direct issue with some of the blandishments offered by well-heeled gambling corporations. Responding to the notion that casinos are an economic development tool, he said that, unlike manufacturing, gambling does not produce a value-added product or reinvestment in the market economy. He also deplored the kind of competitive bidding organized gambling creates in neighboring jurisdictions hungry for revenue. While it does create some low-paying jobs, many of these come at the expense of existing businesses such as restaurants and theaters. Gambling is not the quick-fix silver bullet its sponsors suggest.

For a presidential candidate to raise an issue directly affecting the lives of so many people is a healthy departure from the tendency of politicians to concentrate only on accepted hot-button topics. Too many state and local governments have pandered to a betting craze that last year led to revenues of $40 billion -- this on a growth pattern double that of manufacturing. Not only are public officials hooked; so are millions of Americans.

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