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Gambling: Just another pleasant pastime?
I was in a queue at Safeways Western Union counter the other day, waiting to wire some money to a friend overseas. Four people ahead of me were scanning chits through a machine on the counter. It was a Lotto scanner, and written across its front was this message: Its good to play Lotto.
Good for whom? Good according to what warped standard? First off, it is no secret that organized gambling is a suckers game. Dont compare it with friendly 4-5-6 games in sports-bars that give players even chances of winning. Or the office football pool where the total of whats paid in gets paid out. Dont confuse those with Lotto or casino gambling.
It was only a few short decades ago that gambling was illegal in Washington, and not without reason. When gambling leads many into a compulsion akin to drug or alcohol abuse, society should think deeply before embracing it as just another innocent form of recreation.
I grew up in that era of banned public gambling. In Spokane, anyone bent on gambling headed east across the Idaho state line to where virtually everything went on. From my late teens on, I, spent weekend evenings on bandstands in Idahos gambling clubs with my trumpet, sax and bass fiddle. The bandstand was an excellent vantage point for viewing gamblers at play and it was there that I became convinced that organized gambling is a suckers game. More money goes down the chutes than comes back. Every winner rides on the shoulders a bunch of losers.
Thats not to say Ive never gambled. I used to pick up a lotto ticket every week for my quadriplegic sister so she could have a bit of excitement watching the numbers turn up on late-night TV. If I find myself in a Nevada casino-hotel, Ill donate whatever dimes and quarters are in my pocket while passing through. Aside from that, I break even. Which is to say, I dont gamble.
Casino ads avoid the word, gambling, because of its negative baggage. Theyre now labeled gaming establishments, not gambling houses. Gaming is an interesting euphemism. It suggests that slot machines fall in the same category as basketball or soccer. Remarkably, that fiction has gained enough traction to introduce poker as a spectator sport on ESPN.
Now gambling has become big business on-line. Check www.casinocashwinnings.com to see how deceptive sweet talk lures the gullible, but be careful of the hooks: Want free money to gamble with on the internet? Why gamble with your own money, why not use the casinos instead?
To get to the free money all you have to do is follow the link, download from the page you land on, and the casino youve logged onto will match your money dollar for dollar. Or so it says. This sort of honeyed attraction is to compulsive gamblers like smorgasbords are to compulsive eaters. Irresistible. But beyond dollars lost, there is a price to pay. According to Marylands Attorney Generals study, gambling issues include child neglect and increased crime with prevalence and proximity of gambling. As with alcoholics, problem gamblers live in a state of denial, but like alcoholism, there is a set of indicators that identify addicts. Anyone who identifies with any of the following traits may have a gambling problem.
Preoccupation with gambling.
Reliving past gambling experiences.
Taking time from work or family life
Feeling guilt or remorse after
Borrowing money or stealing to
Failed efforts to cut back on
Lying to hide gambling.
The Maryland study determined that the simple reason crime goes up with the introduction of casino gaming is that the whole point of casinos is to attract hordes of transient people who will gamble lots of money. People who lose money gambling look for ways, often illegal, to get it back. In addition, criminal elements prey upon people in casinos for the obvious reason that criminals know that people in casinos carry cash.
It wasnt a problem 30 years ago when Native American Tribes first began flexing political muscles. A casino here, a casino there. That was then, this is now. It is one thing for casino gambling to happen at a distance. It is quite another when gambling insinuates itself into a small towns social fabric.
Somewhere along the line we ought to take stock. On the plus side, casinos bring visitors, provide jobs and generate profits for the Tribes. Enough has already been said about the down side except for two things:
First, our children are at risk. Studies in New Jersey and Minnesota showed that 30 percent of high school students gambled at least once per week. Local children arent all that different from children in Minnesota or Jew Jersey. Compared with adults, adolescents stand four times the risk of becoming compulsive gamblers. They gamble, they lose. Without jobs, theyll do whatever it takes to pay gambling debts.
Second, casinos serve as laundries for dirty money. Drug dealers accept a certain level of loss so long as the bulk of their drug profits get converted to legitimate winnings. Dirty money in, clean money out.
The next time city councils or state legislators face pressure to expand gambling, I hope they take a moment to weigh the overall cost to society.
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