What Price Gambling?

Gamblingby Wayne S. Walker

Several years ago, when I lived in Ohio, there was instituted a state lottery which was supposed to be the salvation of the educational system. Many, and perhaps most, other states now have them too. Although it has been plagued with problems, pari-mutuel betting is allowed at racetracks throughout the nation. I remember when someone suggested turning the Cleveland, OH, waterfront into a midwest Las Vegas. Now that "gambling fever" has caught on, most states are constantly having to deal with the issue of how much more gambling to allow.

Generally, governments ask voters to legalize gambling or increase its scope with the claim that it will raise revenue, eradicate urban blight, help the elderly to live in better neighborhoods, and generate more jobs. But an article in Parade Magazine, a national newspaper supplement, a number of years ago warned people if they are ever asked to consider legalizing gambling to think twice before voting "yes." (I forgot to note the exact date of the magazine, but it was probably sometime back in 1984 -- and it has not gotten any better since then!)

The Twentieth Century Fund, an independent research foundation, had released a study which revealed that casino gambling in Atlantic City, NJ, had failed to improve the lot of most people who needed it the most--the old, the handicapped, and minorities. In 1976, supporters of the referendum to legalized gambling in that city promised residents of rundown areas that the new money that would come from casino revenues would enable them to build extra low-cost housing, eradicate slums, and provide jobs. Some 30,000 jobs were spawned, but most of them went to people who lived outside the city.

The report says, "Atlantic City may not have been the best of all refuges for the elderly before (gambling) legalization, but now even the dismal comforts that it afforded are being swept away. The situation for minority groups is even worse. While some have benefited from casino employment, all too many have seen their homes fall into uninhabitable disrepair or burned down by landlords hoping to profit from rampant land speculation." Thus, the conclusion of these experts was that Atlantic city has been a disaster in terms of urban renewal. The casinos have fostered crime, corruption, and prostitution, but have done nothing of consequence for the needy and the aged. And people continue to call for more and more!

The study concludes, "In our view the cost of New Jersey's style of casino gambling as a means of revitalization far outweighs its virtues. This may not inhibit other states from moving into the arena. But it is our hope that the New Jersey experience will serve to guide them." The study, called The Atlantic City Gamble, by George Sternlieb and James W. Hughes, was made available in book form from Harvard University Press. As Christians, let us ever remember that gambling in all forms -- whether church bingo, state lottery, or casinos--is a vice that preys upon the unfortunate, an evil that brings all sorts of problems into our society, and a sin that will send one's soul to hell.