TWO VIEWS • Is casino gaming an economic necessity or a trap door for addicts?
'Gambling should not be viewed as purely a budgetary matter. É There are costs to families, communities and, ultimately, the state when people go bankrupt playing games, commit crimes to gain money for gambling, get divorced or fail to feed their children. There are costs when an employee does not show up for work because of an uncontrolled desire to play video poker. And there are costs to existing businesses when patrons divert their spending toward gambling activity.'
Ñ Oregon Attorney General
Oct. 4, 1996
It has been little more than a generation since gambling arrived, gently on cat's paws É just a little bingo in church basements. Early on, Ralph Nader saw where this was heading. 'Legalized gambling is going to sweep this country,' he said. 'The churches have always stood as a bulwark against gambling, because they saw it as a vice which bled families and communities. But the churches have been seduced by bingo.'
Just as the church cracked the door to gambling, the state lottery rushed in to open the door and casinos finish the job by taking the door off. We are now left with wide-open Las Vegas-style gambling in our neighborhoods, and we are even threatened with a megacasino in the center of the city.
Video poker is an engineered addiction. The machines stimulate the central nervous system in a manner that has been compared to crack cocaine. Addiction experts tell us that with traditional forms of gambling it normally took 20 to 30 years for a player to become an addict. With video poker machines, the time is down to two to three years. Spend an hour at your local tavern and see how easy it is to distinguish the few new players from the veterans. These machines suck people dry Ñ body, soul and goods.
When a state budget depends on legalized gambling, the relationship between the individual and the state changes. Instead of being a democratic instrument of service and protection, the state assumes the role of the con, the hustler, the pimp, appealing to people's weaknesses in order to exploit them. The predictable result is that the state is discredited. Who wants to pay taxes to the state when the state is a hustler and a con?
By advertising the various lottery 'games,' the state is teaching our children that wealth is what matters most, and the easier you make it the better. While parents try to teach the values of thrift, responsibility and viewing money as fair compensation for social contribution, our state is spending huge sums of money to undermine these messages, teaching our children the virtue of getting something for nothing Ñ the glory of getting lucky.
But more devastating than this, the state itself becomes addicted to the gambling revenue, then seeks to chase its losses by sacrificing more of its citizens.
Today, Oregon is second only to Nevada in the variety of ways the state encourages its citizens to gamble. The logical extension of relying on gambling can be seen in Nevada. Surely if this industry promoted healthy economic development, Nevada would be the showcase. Yet Nevada shows that like a person, a state cannot gamble itself rich, but can gamble itself poor. Despite having most of its gambling done by tourists, Nevada has a state deficit of $700 million. Nevada residents also lead the nation in gambling addiction, suicide, divorce and high-school dropouts.
Gambling culture does not just produce random victims; it undermines the sense of community itself. Among the 50 states, the one dead last in voter participation is Nevada.
Fortunately, Gov. Ted Kulongoski was the head of the task force that studied gambling in Oregon seven years ago. The task force's primary conclusion was that the state had steadily increased gambling without any thought of where it was taking us. He said if the state budget depends on gambling, 'there will be constant pressure to increase gambling,' and that little recognition had been given to the fact that 'increasing revenues to the state means increasing gambling losses for players.' This failure to consider the costs as well as the benefits was the natural outgrowth of the failure of the state to 'do systematic studies of the various impacts of gambling in this state.'
As governor, Kulongoski has now blocked the 'casino for stadium' scheme, and he showed considerable wisdom and guts in doing so. Still, he left the door ajar for further consideration of gambling expansion, including both line games and casinos on nontribal lands.
Yet the very study of the costs of gambling which he called for in 1996 has yet to be done. It is time for Gov. Kulongoski to heed his own counsel and demand a moratorium on gambling expansion in Oregon until a complete and rigorous evaluation has been made of the economic and human costs. Anything less would have the governor 'chasing the very losses' he foresaw seven years ago.
Tom Grey is a Methodist minister from Hanover, Ill. He is founder and director of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. Before he joined the ministry, he was a quarterback at Dartmouth University and commanded a rifle battalion in Vietnam.
Greg Kafoury is a Portland lawyer and antigambling activist. He was a leader in the successful campaign to close the Trojan Nuclear Plant and was a key organizer of Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign. He lives in Northeast Portland.