In the shadows of gambling
AFA Journal, January 2002 edition
Proponents argue legalized gambling is nothing more than harmless entertainment, but studies and those affected by it say few things are more deceptively harmful.
And, for all the arguments that gambling in any form will boost economic prosperity or state spending on education, one only has to look to the record books and into the shadows of the casinos and lotteries to see the real story.
The real story isn't all glitter and gold.
According to a recent analysis of Indiana's state lottery sales from 1999 and 2000, The Indianapolis Star found the Hoosier Lottery "has the effect of a tax paid in disproportionate amounts by those with the most to lose - people in the state's lowest?income neighborhoods."
The Star's study found that of all lottery revenue from 1999 and 2000, "residents in lower-income neighborhoods throughout the state spent about six times more, proportionately, on lottery games than those in higher?income areas." The analysis also showed Indiana promotes the lottery in areas where it knows people are more likely to buy tickets - in the poorest neighborhoods of its urban cities. In one month, September 1999, about one?third of the 60 billboards erected by the lottery in Marion County were in Center Township, the poorest neighborhood. The lottery only erected two billboards across town in a more affluent area.
The National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) says the practice isn't limited to Indiana. According to the commission, as lotteries are run as businesses with a focus on maximizing revenues, advertising necessarily focuses on persuading target groups to spend their money on the lottery. The commission's report, though, raises significant questions:
Does this promotion of gambling lead to negative consequences for the poor, problem gamblers, etc.?
And, even if these problems are minimal, is this an appropriate function for the state? Is running a lottery at cross?purposes with the larger public interest?
At least three states - Minnesota, Virginia and Wisconsin - believe lotteries are at cross?purposes with the larger public interest, and have imposed significant restrictions on advertising and promotion. Meanwhile, in Maryland a state budget examiner's report on that state's lottery advertising stated it contained "misleading gimmickry" that exaggerated the benefits to the public from lottery revenues.
In the shadows
While the promotion of lotteries and casinos show gleaming smiles on happy faces and fists full of cash, rarely do the images of what lurks in the shadows of gambling come into focus.
In the flat, dusty fields of Tunica County, Mississippi, where cotton used to grow in the Mississippi River Delta, numerous glittering casinos and hotels now grow out of vast expanses of asphalt. Prior to the mid?1990s when the casinos came into full bloom, the county was one of the poorest in the nation. Now, economic leaders take pride in telling how the casinos have raised the annual income of its residents to near the state and national averages.
While some residents have benefited from the jobs, and the area has benefited in the way of a new four?lane highway and school facilities, the casinos have done little to boost the fortunes of many who still live in poverty. And the casinos regularly take in thousands of dollars that otherwise might be spent with local merchants.
For all the ballyhooing promoters do about the good fortunes legalized gambling can bring to a state or region, the Indianapolis study and Mississippi's reality simply prove otherwise.
"In inner?city areas, gambling is seen as a 'ticket out of poverty' and a last chance for riches," Dr. James Dobson, a member of the NGISC, wrote in a letter to supporters in 1999. "As such it preys on the desperation of the poor, and its promises are based on lies. When state lotteries are proposed, for example, the public is assured that enormous funds will be generated for education, despite studies showing that after states legalize lotteries, they actually reduce spending for education."
The NGISC study reveals that in many instances lottery revenue doesn't increase the amount of money earmarked for education, but replaces other funds the state had previously spent on these services. The report cites Florida as an example. In 1988, the first year of that state's lottery, Florida spent 60% of its budget on education. By 1993, with lottery revenues earmarked for education, that sector's share of the budget had declined to 51%. Donald E. Miller and Patrick A. Pierce point out in a supporting study that "regardless of when or where the lottery operated, education spending declined once a state put a lottery into effect."
Alabama voters didn't buy the argument a few years ago when the idea was presented to them. In 1999, 54% of voters knocked down a proposed lottery for education. Gov. Don Siegelman had campaigned heavily on the benefits of a lottery. His governing agenda took a serious blow as he and others in state government were banking on the belief the lottery had a strong chance to be approved.
Not everyone buys the argument that a state would be better off with a lottery. Forty percent of Tennesseans polled recently said they would vote against a state lottery that will be on a referendum ballot on November 5, 2002. But that still leaves 55% who said they would vote for the measure, and 5% of registered voters polled who were undecided.
'Subtlest forms of deception'
Hoosier Lottery Director John M. Ross defends the lottery.
"I think it's being rather judgmental to say that poor folks are being exploited," Ross told The Star. "They make their own decisions on entertainment, voluntarily."
And one state politician who sponsored the bill that created the lottery told The Star he sees the lottery as nothing more than harmless fun.
"It's all disposable income," said State Sen. Lawrence Borst, R?Greenwood. "Some people can't afford tickets to a Pacers game or a Colts game, but they can afford a couple bucks for a lottery ticket. And they get enjoyment out of it."
And that's where the problem begins. Many who gamble begin either out of curiosity or because they seek entertainment. But the underlying and powerful draw for many people into gambling is the long?shot hope they'll strike it rich. And such desires often lead people astray.
"Three days before my first wedding anniversary, I went to my first casino," said a former youth pastor now serving a 27?year prison sentence for swindling a bank out of $27,000 for gambling. "I came home 300 dollars richer, I thought. The next night I lost it and it started a cycle of events that destroyed my relationship with God."
The man, in a letter a few years ago to AFA President Don Wildmon, went on to describe how gambling shattered his life. He lost his wife and family, wasn't able to hold down a job even in multiple career fields, and eventually turned to breaking the law to satisfy his addiction.
"Gambling is one of the subtlest forms of deception the devil has ever created," he wrote. "I venture to say there are thousands of compulsive gamblers in this state, and many of those may even be Christians who have gotten lured in by dreams of riches, getting something for nothing."
AFA GAMBLING RESOURCES
This website offers an extensive library of resources on compulsive gambling, includes symptoms and treatment.
National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling
NCALG is concerned with the rapid expansion of gambling across the country solely financed by the gambling community and is especially concerned with gambling's addictive effect on youth and families and governments.
National Council on Problem Gambling, Inc.
NCPG works to increase public awareness of pathological gambling, ensure the widespread availability of treatment for problem gamblers and their families, and to encourage research and programs for prevention and education.
CitizenLink Forum on Gambling
This website of Focus on the Family offers extensive information on gambling.