Field of Casinos

If we build it, they will come. That seems to be the vision of gambling interests, thwarted so far in their bid to start a casino in Fall River, Mass. Wampanoag Indians and their Miami-based corporate partner plan to build a gambling hall there anyway, starting with bingo. They sound confident that customers will come and, eventually, so will casino gambling.

This is no gauzy "Field of Dreams" movie, with farmers preparing a baseball diamond for a legendary player: "If you build it, he will come." This would be one more step in the gamblifying of America. Even some opponents now sound as if casinos are inevitable in Massachusetts, and probably in every other state softened up by the trend to legal lotteries.

For every publicized indictment in gambling crimes, such as the 17 recently announced in San Diego, there is incalculable loss to individuals and families succumbing to gambling habits encouraged on all sides.

If only the federal government would take a decisive lead against gambling escalation - since governors like Bill Weld of Massachusetts, for all his legal smarts, continue to favor it. But the gesture of a federal commission to study gambling seemed weakened when its nine members were finally announced, three appointed by President Clinton and the others by congressional leaders. Antigambling voices said the panel was biased in favor of casinos.

But Mr. Clinton sought exactly the right people, according to his spokesman, "to measure the economic and moral and legal impact of legalized gambling on our society." The commission has two years to prove him right. Meanwhile, sadly, the Wampanoag-Miami connection will be ready for a field bigger than bingo.

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