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Gambling: a Bad Bet

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee last week approved a bill to set up a national commission to study gambling in the United States.

The bill calls for the commission to examine the social and economic impact of gambling on communities and individuals and issue a report within two years. It would look at all forms of gambling, including new forms of interactive computer technology and gambling over the Internet. Three commission members would be named by the president, three by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and three by the Senate majority leader. The board would hold public hearings and have the power to subpoena witnesses.

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Such a study, which joins a number of state-sponsored inquiries, is long overdue. The states' headlong rush over the last 20 years into lotteries, bingo, riverboat casinos, and other gaming was accompanied by promises of economic development, more state funding for schools and other services, and "harmless" entertainment.

Not one of these promises has come to pass. Instead of economic development, discretionary spending is drained away from other, more-productive spending on goods, services, or entertainment. Instead of spending more on education or social services, legislators have taken away general funds in equal amounts and merely replaced the money with lottery and keno revenues. Instead of harmless entertainment, there is organized-crime involvement, gambling addiction, and a whole host of personal problems fed by the lure of "easy money." The states, themselves addicted to gaming revenues, are forced to invent new games to augment lottery earnings lost to competition.

The gambling industry opposes creation of this commission, worried it will find that gambling causes more problems than benefits for states and communities.

It's time society knew the real costs of gambling. The Senate should pass the measure without delay.

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