Oregon: Block That Bet

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FROM city halls to the floor of the US Senate, Oregon has a reputation for being politically progressive. That's what makes it so hard to understand why the state has not only jumped on the gambling bandwagon, but set it off on a new and troubling course that's bound to hurt less-well-off Oregonians and add to gambling addiction. Oregon last week became the first state to have government-sponsored betting on pro football. Sponsors say it will raise money for college sports programs by picking up some of the $40 billion Americans annually spend on illegal sports wagering. As with lotteries, boosters say, the state will pick up a good bit of revenue in fairly painless fashion (i.e., without having to raise taxes).

There are several obvious problems with this logic.

First, state-sponsored gambling is a highly-regressive way to raise funds: It takes mostly from those least likely to afford it, with families often suffering as a result. Second, it is well documented that government-sanctioned betting helps get people - especially young people - hooked on the destructive notion that fate and chance govern their well-being.

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``The game could have the effect of introducing a whole new group of people to illegal gambling,'' a Portland police detective told the New York Times.

Although the impact is less dramatic, the parallel to drug addiction - certainly on everyone's mind today - is quite close. Americans now spend upwards of $250 billion a year on legal and illegal betting. Aside from the moral question, is the relatively little garnered for government programs worth the tremendous cost? How much productivity is lost through an activity described by many experts as an ``epidemic''? How much good could just a fraction of that money do if it were directed against the nation's drug problem? When family or friends gather to watch the clash of the NFL titans, shouldn't the sport itself be enough entertainment?

Some years ago, Delaware tried football gambling, but dropped it when revenues fell far short of expectations. Now Oregon is back with the same bad idea, and other states are thinking of following its lead. Let's hope it lands like a blocked field goal.

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