Gambling, regrettably, has become an accepted part of American life. It stares out at us from lottery banners in convenience store windows and glittery ads for Las Vegas vacations. But should it also peer out from cartoon characters dancing on the screens of video slot machines?
That question is furrowing brows in, of all places, Nevada, where the state's Gaming Control Board is debating how to curb the use of slots that could appeal strongly to children. The gambling industry, Nevada's economic engine, is not opposed to regulating away such machines - which have themes ranging from TV's South Park to the Pink Panther to the Three Stooges.
As one casino executive put it, "We don't need a Joe Camel."
That cartoon figure on R.J. Reynolds cigarettes became a rallying point for antitobacco activists convinced the industry was designing its products and ads to lure future generations of smokers.
Debatably, Three Stooges slot machines are open to the same line of criticism. And youth gambling is clearly a national problem. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, in a report last June, found that up to 1.1 million American teenagers are compulsive gamblers.
So, definitely, let's rule out kid-themed slot machines. But let's go beyond that. Toy manufacturers should be discouraged from producing toy slots, and action should be taken to more strictly enforce laws against underage participation in state lotteries and sports betting. Public service advertising should warn kids of the dangers of gambling, just as they do of tobacco or drug addiction.
State collaboration in games of chance gives gambling a misplaced seal of approval, which youngsters can sense. It's not too late to start correcting that mistake.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society