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Gambling as a House of Cards

Of seven states with gambling questions on the Nov. 2 ballot, four wisely voted against them. Encouragingly, the results show the public willing to set some limits on gambling's allure.

In California, two measures were soundly defeated by 3-1 margins. The initiatives would have benefited a handful of Indian tribal casinos, along with some card clubs and racetracks.

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In Iowa, a measure for riverboat gambling failed while Nebraskans turned down slot machines. (Both states already have some forms of gambling, and existing casinos that didn't want competition helped fund the antigambling campaigns.) In Washington State, voters also said "no" to slot machines even though a portion of the profits would have helped reduce property taxes.

Nonetheless, three states fell for gambling's false promise.

In Florida, voters narrowly supported slot machines at race tracks in the state's two most populous counties. Taxes on the revenue generated will go to public schools. The lure of having $600 million a year from gambling money for schools got Michigan to OK more gambling. And by a wide margin, Oklahomans approved a new lottery to raise more education funds.

With gambling now legal in 48 states, the industry's revenues have risen from $34 billion in 1993 to $72 billion last year. Yet a definitive Harvard study shows 1.14 percent of American adults are considered to have an "uncontrollable" gambling addiction, while nearly 4 percent have some degree of gambling problem. Even more troubling, the research found some 3.2 to 8.4 percent of adolescents were considered "uncontrollable" gamblers.

Despite gambling's promise of easy revenue, states must work harder to find alternate ways to fund programs so as not to support an addiction that has negatively affected so many lives.