Gambling: sure bet for building debt

What's that creaking sound? Could this be the year in which overconsumption, in a couple different forms, finally lumbers home to roost?

Coping with weight and debt were the most pressing personal resolutions of those Americans polled around New Year's Day by Cambridge Consumer Credit Index.

Both obesity and indebtedness, social observers point out, are often fueled by compulsive behaviors. Both can carry crushing costs.

So who's arming those affected to fight back? Some people enlist personal trainers and financial planners. Others - probably including many of those who need help most - scan e-mail spam and TV infomercials. What they quite often find there: promises of quick fixes.

Online, especially, the financially strapped might be increasingly intrigued by opportunities to gamble. The legality can be hazy, and the downside - including a role in rising personal bankruptcy - is often conveniently ignored, critics say.

Broadly speaking, gambling has won a certain legitimacy. States embrace lotteries for the revenue they rake in. Convenience stores add touch-screen card games for the same reason. Gambling has become one of the few sure-bet earners.

The Casino Aztar in Evansville, Ind., for example, is reportedly prepared to prepay its riverfront lease for the next 10 years in order to help fund construction of a minor-league baseball stadium in that city.

Backers may hail that "giveback." But most experts maintain gambling is more likely to yield a debt-deepening problem than a debt solution for the desperate.

Sunday, some $70 million will be wagered on the Super Bowl on what's often the year's top sports-betting day. A lot of it will leave households and go to "the house."

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