The glitzy lure of gambling seems irresistible to many American communities. Casinos promise jobs, tourist dollars, and, not least, big revenue pay-offs for local governments.
Among the latest, and the largest, to give in to that lure is Detroit (see story, page 2). It cut the ribbon on the first of three planned casinos a year ago. Since then, the struggling Motor City, whose economic decline has been a story for decades, has raked in $51 million in taxes from the casinos and benefitted from 7,000 new jobs.
It's probably hard to find casino doubters in Detroit. Yet the doubts are there - as they are in every corner of the country where gambling has taken root.
Even as the revenues roll in, what's the social cost of gambling? America has millions of problem, or addicted, gamblers, and with ever-expanding access to gambling halls, their numbers are growing. A 1997 study by the state of Michigan estimated that about 5 percent of Detroit's population could become problem gamblers. That's some 45,000 people.
The potential cost in bankruptcies, broken families, and wrecked lives is staggering.
Gambling poses other kinds of problems, too. Detroit's casinos will ultimately cluster along its waterfront, thus getting a lock on the city's most valuable real estate. The rest of the city could end up as a still-dreary backdrop. And the casinos' influence on local and state politics will grow along with the profits and revenues.
One of the many cautionary notes struck by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission last year was a recommendation to limit the ability of gambling interests to make political campaign contributions and thus influence policy. In fact, the gambling industry's political clout, and contributions, are mounting.
Cities like Detroit and Gary, Ind., which look to gambling to help reverse industrial decline, are only one facet of the country's gaming explosion. Tribal gambling operations are another. California's decision to greatly expand Indian-run gambling could spawn casino-related problems that might dwarf those potentially facing Detroit.
In all cases, the lure is economic gain - often for long impoverished communities. But that lure has an indisputable dark side that no amount of money can hide.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society