Three different events, looked at together, offer some insight on how pervasive, and potentially destructive, gambling is becoming in America:
*California's Indian tribes have been given federal approval to greatly expand gambling operations on their areas in the state.
*Winning numbers were drawn for the largest multistate lottery prize yet ($366 million).
*Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards was convicted of extortion and conspiracy in the awarding of licenses to run floating casinos.
To take Mr. Edwards first, his casino-related conviction culminates a long history of run-ins with the law over corruption charges. This time, federal prosecutors had reams of phone-tapped evidence. The onset of casino gambling on the shores of the Mississippi, with the intense competition for licenses, was apparently too tempting to one politician's greed - underscoring the fact that gambling can be a magnet for corruption.
The huge, seven-state lottery pay-out highlights another form of official entanglement in gambling. This one, of course, is not only legal but wildly popular and lucrative. Some two-thirds of the states now have lotteries, and their addiction to gambling earnings is equal to the compulsion of the players. True, the revenues go to good causes, like education, which helps build support for the games. But consider the irony of raising money for schools by teaching people to waste money and perhaps destroy families by playing games of chance with near-impossible odds. Why not teach Lottery 101 in high school math?
And the Indians in California? Many would argue these tiny, poor tribes are just getting what's due them. The injustices done native Americans are irrefutable. The tribes may get rich, as tribes elsewhere have, but the long-term cost to society in lost personal savings and ruined lives from compulsive gambling should be weighed as well.
Gambling seems to have irresistible momentum. At some point, Americans must ask whether they're happy with a trend that glorifies chance and erodes stand-up values like progress through merit and selfreliance on one's true worth.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society