THE legal gambling that has surged across the United States - from state-run lotteries to bingo, casino, and other gambling facilities run by financially strapped native American tribes - has really done little to produce national or personal wealth or well-being.
That judgment may sound harsh to many who participate in the gaming business or whose legitimate needs appear to be met by the profits - or who benefit from its proceeds.
But the current controversy between several states and tribes over who should run, and perhaps for a while profit from, such gambling enterprises indicates the kind of damage the quest for "easy money" can wreak.
To the tribes who have gone into the gambling business, this new source of money is seen as a way to meet many legitimate needs that have been too long neglected.
But state officials see this as money that might otherwise have gone into state enterprises now going onto gaming tables and into reservation coffers.
Some have reacted by jumping on the gambling bandwagon. They may have been well-meant, but they were also ill-advised.
Bruce Babbitt, the new United States secretary of the interior, is responsible for Indian affairs. He has stepped in to mediate the dispute between Native American leaders and state governors like Arizona's Fife Symington and New York's Mario Cuomo. Knowing Mr. Babbitt's conciliatory nature and ability as a former governor (of Arizona), we don't doubt that he will engineer a reasonable compromise.
However, it is difficult to accept the runaway gambling culture that is making steady inroads in American society.
How can those involved, both victims and temporary profiters, fail to see that even winners at the bingo and casino tables are in the long-run losers - losers morally as well as monetarily?