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Rethinking Gambling

Remember the National Gambling Impact Study Commission? It was set up two years ago to assess how the snowballing American enthusiasm for gambling is affecting the nation and what should be done about it.

Last week, some early hints of its final report, due June 18, made headlines. A slim majority of the commissioners apparently favors calling for a moratorium on further expansion of gaming. As one antigambling member put it, "so the country can take a deep breath" - and, we assume, try to grasp what it's doing to itself.

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To be sure, a country that goes from a couple of gambling outposts to nationwide lotteries and casinos in the course of two decades is doing something to itself. The commission has paid for some research on particular facets of what that might be. One study concluded that 5 million Americans are problem gamblers, and perhaps 15 million others are at risk of developing such behavior. A study of gambling among youth estimated that 1.1 million teens have a "pathological" urge to gamble.

Pro-casino interests say such figures are exaggerated. Antigambling forces say they only hint at the problem. That debate aside, a nation that fosters a reliance on chance (statistical accident), and officially endorses a culture of irresponsibility - all in the name of increased state revenues and free enterprise - is certainly playing games with its moral foundations.

A thoughtful moratorium sounds like a good start.

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