It's a sure sign of success for Christian groups trying to stop the spread of gambling: gaming advocates are organizing for a counterattack. In an article titled, "The Moral Politics of Gaming," published in the trade magazine International Gaming and Wagering Business, industry experts outline steps for "turning the tables" on anti-gambling groups. The steps include attacking arguments that gambling hurts the economy and causes increased crime, pushing for limited stakes riverboat and casino gambling (presumably easier to pass among voters), and uniting the industry for additional political clout.
Written by Paul Doocey, the article also suggests the economy could "push gaming back into the forefront," particularly if a recession "creates a sudden need for taxes and economic renewal ...;" that government decentralization could help the gambling interests if states are forced to find other methods for funding programs abandoned by Washington; and that some gambling victories could be helped by dissension among Republicans caused by the tension between belief in a free market and the government controls typically imposed on gambling.
Although the article acknowledges the moral arguments made by many opponents to gambling, it suggests even those opponents are beginning to de-emphasize the morality aspects of gaming, focusing instead on the economy and crime. This, according to the article, is exactly the "window of opportunity" needed by gaming interests "to score some much needed public relations points."
Arguing that gambling improves the economy of an area is just not factual, said Lamar Cooper, a Southern Baptist expert on gambling. "It's really a question of whose economy you're improving, perhaps the gamblers?" said Cooper. "Atlantic City is not a model for a rebuilt, restructured community, based on the influence of gambling. Before gaming came to Atlantic City, there were over 2,000 businesses. At one point, they were down to around 300."
The pro-gambling article also claims law enforcement studies "show few incidents of organized crime infiltration or rises in other social crimes associated with casinos." Evidently, these statistics do not include Gulfport, Miss., where crime increased 300% in some categories after gambling was introduced to the area, said Cooper, currently faculty dean at Midwestern Seminary.
"Crimes have gone up in many states where gambling has been introduced," said Cooper. "Because gambling is an addiction, people will steal to satisfy that addiction."
The addictive argument is the one gambling interests should be most concerned about, cautions the pro-gambling article. "The compulsive gambling argument is the one opponents of gambling are beginning to latch on to, and to be quite honest, it is a legitimate concern," said Randolph Baker, a professor of gaming studies at the University of Nevada Reno's Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming who was quoted in the article.
"Due to the addictive element, we have not yet seen, and we cannot document the social cost of gambling on our society," said Paul Jones, executive director of the Christian Action Commission. "Gambling has been seen as a moral and social problem for 200 years, one that creates problems for individuals and institutions: Suddenly, we're trying to ignore all that!"
Speaking of government-operated lotteries, Jones asked, "Is it ever a legitimate function of government to promote that which is known and demonstrated to be addictive, destructive and harmful to individuals, families and society?"
Cooper said this "facelift" of gambling is simply a reaction to the success anti-gambling groups have had in stopping its spread. "It's going to be incredibly difficult for gambling elements to sell their claims to state and local governments because the facts are just not there to support them. The longer the track record, the easier it will be to demonstrate gambling's destructiveness."
And that destructiveness, the moral element, is at the core of any Christian argument against gambling, said Cooper. "Gambling is not a harmless form of family entertainment, it's a moral blight."
Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing:
Four Questions to Ask Pro-gambling Forces
"The gambling cartel cannot be allowed to frame the questions of the gambling debate," said Paul Jones, executive director of the Christian Action Commission of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. He offers four questions that must be answered before government-operated gambling, such as lotteries, are allowed into the community.
Is it a function of government to make losers out of its citizens? State-operated lotteries guarantee that most citizens will become losers, and has one government agency working to hurt citizens when other agencies are working to help them.
Is it a function of government to compete with legitimate businesses? State-operated lotteries place the state in competition for the same dollars being spent for goods and services elsewhere.
Is it a function of government to advertise that which is known and demonstrated to be addictive? The American Psychiatric Association lists gambling as a compulsive disorder, said Jones.
Is it a function of government to conflict with its own consumer protection laws? Truth in advertising laws would not allow a grocery store to make outrageous claims, such as, "Buy our food and live to be 100!" Yet, lotteries promote false hope, advertising that a few dollars can lead to millions.