States and Problem Gamblers

Missouri, to its credit, is trying to do something about compulsive gamblers. The state's program (see story page 1) allows such gamblers - for whom the slots and tables are an addiction not a recreation - to ban themselves, in effect, from floating casinos on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. It's a small step in the right direction.

Small because the program lacks back-up enforcement. Gamblers who recognize their problem and ask the state to take away their "player's card," which serves as an ID to get into the casinos, can easily beat the system by borrowing a friend's card. Even if they're detected, they can still keep their winnings.

And small because the underlying problem is the growing availability of gambling in all its forms. More than 5 million Americans are categorized as problem or pathological gamblers. With casinos in more than two dozen states, lotteries in 37, and the new wave of Internet wagering, the means of feeding their habit is increasingly right at hand. States, including Missouri with its riverboats, should be thinking of ways to lessen the temptation, not just limit the damage from indulging it.

Addiction to gambling breeds many of the same social ills as an addiction to drugs. Families suffer as members steal to feed their habit. Savings are gambled away. The

"high" of winning sinks under a mountain of debt.

Missouri's program, at least, encourages problem gamblers to take a step toward their own salvation. Other states should follow suit. People who regularly fritter away their income on the outrageous odds in state lotteries should get the same encouragement to quit. Lotteries and state-licensed casinos should be required to prominently advertise their odds. That might help wake up some people.

The addiction, sadly, goes beyond individuals. State governments are hooked on gambling, and gambling interests have increasingly powerful lobbies. Problem gamblers and related social devastation are indicative of what the country is doing to itself by buying into an industry that thrives on irresponsible behavior.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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