In Deep Denial: Gambling With the Facts

I was not shocked on Sunday night as I watched Governor Ed Rendell call Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes a "simpleton and an idiot." This frustration often occurs when an individual attempts to justify an unjustifiable position.

The governor was attempting to explain that the increase of gambling venues in Pennsylvania did not have a direct correlation to an increase of problem gamblers in his state. The governor went on to suggest that in the absence of gambling facilities in his state that "those people (problem gamblers) would lose their money anyway."

His position is not supported by the literature. Proximity studies from around the country confirm that "the presence of a gambling facility within 50 miles roughly doubles the prevalence of problem and pathological gamblers." (National Opinion Research Center - Gambling Impact and Behavior Study, Report to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, April 1, 1999).

Many argue that the number of people who suffer adverse affects because of problem gambling is a small percentage of the total gambling population. In a National survey conducted for "The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, June 1999", it was suggested that there were 7.5 million adult problem/pathological gamblers in the United States. The percentage of the total population that suffers from problem/pathological gambling is small. The number of the total population that suffers from problem/pathological gambling is large.

In recent years most states attempting to introduce casino gambling as a new revenue stream have shared a common theme. They make the argument that all their gambling dollars are being exported to neighboring states where gambling is legal and in return are getting back citizens who have developed gambling problems. Governor Rendell suggested that if the citizens of his state are going to lose their paychecks anyway they might as well lose them in Pennsylvania. He stated that before the introduction of casino gambling in his state, "We were getting all of the downside and none of the upside."

Studies have shown that proximity and easy access to gambling venues correlates to more problem/pathological gambling. The more venues that are opened in a state the greater number of the citizens of the state will suffer from the devastation caused by problem gambling.

I believe it is this contradiction which caused the governor to become upset with Leslie Stahl when she stated that "there are a lot of people who are suffering and they are taking whatever money they had and they are throwing it away in the casinos." To this the governor responded, "You don't get it. Those people would lose their money anyway. You are idiots if you don't get that."

Most governors and state legislators will acknowledge that some people who gamble will be adversely affected when a new gambling venue is opened. They will have come to the same conclusion that Governor Rendell arrived at. "The upside is significantly better than the downside." The frustration for government lies in the fact that to get this increase in revenue from gambling that some citizens of the state will have to suffer the devastating effects of problem gambling. Paychecks will be lost, homes will be foreclosed, families will be split up, crimes will be committed and gamblers will commit suicide. Once again, these gamblers will be a small percentage of the population but they will be a large number of people.

I, personally, have no problem with casino gambling. Casinos are now legal in many communities and a large number were voted in by the citizens of the state. My concern is for the people who become addicted to gambling.

In Louisiana the casinos finance an inpatient program for the addicted gambler. This program is called CORE and is located in Shreveport. It is free for the residents of the state. It should be used as a model for every state that has a stream of revenue coming from gambling.

If the states agree that some of their citizens will become harmed because of this revenue source, doesn't that state have a duty to offer treatment to those residents? Shouldn't every state that benefits from "the upside of gambling" be held responsible to provide the best treatment possible for that small percentage of its citizens who will develop a problem with gambling? The revenue from gambling comes at a cost. It is time for all states to accept responsibility for their share of the damage that is being done and offer appropriate treatment programs for those affected.