The Empty Lure of Casinos

The prospect of big winnings keeps casino developers, as well as individual gamblers, coming back. The Wampanoag Indian tribe of Massachusetts, for instance, is making its third try in a decade to open a casino in the state.

Resistance to the wave of casino development engulfing much of the US has been strong in the Bay State. Most churches remain staunchly opposed, mainly because gambling often keeps poor people poor and creates all manner of social problems. Some politicians seem more concerned that a casino would cut lottery revenues.

The main reason to hold the line against casinos is that gambling fosters a belief that chance, not merit or virtue, guides human affairs. It also squanders personal resources.

And is casino gambling really the boon to communities it's often painted to be? Dollars that gamblers spend at a casino would certainly be more productive if saved or spent elsewhere. Gambling establishments entail high costs to communities, whether it's treatment of problem-gamblers or a need for more law enforcement.

Still, the momentum behind casinos is huge today. The Wampanoags, with financial backing from a casino-owning tribe in Louisiana, are determined to cash in - as are tribes in many parts of the US. The biggest casino boom is in California, where dozens of tribes are going into big-time gaming after gaining a green light from the state's voters last year.

Politicians who see revenue gains from gambling (states usually get a big cut of tribal casino earnings) and who have increasingly large campaign contributions from gambling interests, too easily push aside the negatives.

Those negatives can include, by the way, financial arrangements that benefit a tribe's gambling-industry partners more than the tribe. Organized- crime involvement is a lurking danger, too. A bill before Congress would strengthen federal regulation of tribal casinos and address those issues.

States should exercise more oversight in this realm than now exists. And states - like Massachusetts - that still have an opportunity to buck the tide and turn back casinos should exercise that option.

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