Gambling's Rising Tab

As legalized gambling continues to surge in the United States, so does the human tragedy and moral bankruptcy associated with it.

Two recent pieces of evidence:

The gambling palaces rising on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi have generated five times their number of pawn shops, largely due to that state's liberal licensing of such establishments. The shops do a thriving 24-hour business, raking in interest at a rate of 25 percent monthly (300 percent a year). Operators say customers who've exhausted their credit lines at the casinos have been known to rush to a store, buy a TV set on credit, and then pawn it for a fraction of its value (not even bothering to take it out of the box), and head back to the gaming tables.

Many pawn shops have a lucrative side business in title loans on cars, at the same sky-high interest rate. The unreclaimed cars are lined up for sale in front of the shops.

The end result of such self-destructive activity is, all too often, actual suicide. That's the conclusion suggested by the work of University of California at San Diego sociologist David Phillips. His research centered on Las Vegas and Reno, in Nevada, and Atlantic City, N.J. - three cities with long records of casino gambling. Suicide rates among residents, and visitors, in all three were found to be double or more the national average.

Such phenomena should alert the nation that the plunge into gambling is dangerous. It plays on human weakness, fosters an addiction, weakens families, and devastates individuals. Casino towns may provide particularly graphic examples of this crass exploitation, but other forms of legalized gaming, such as state-run lotteries, generate lesser manifestations of the same evil.

It's well to note that Americans spend almost as much on gambling (6 percent of the gross national product) as they do on family groceries (8 percent). State-sanctioned reliance on chance - versus work, frugality, and investment - poses a danger to citizens that no amount of tax revenue or lottery take can justify.

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