A lesson for states that expand gambling

Pennsylvania follows many other states in a major expansion of gambling. Yet the US must heed warnings from other countries, especially Britain.

AP Photo
Players sit at slot machines in the Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin near Pittsburgh, Penn. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill Oct. 20 authorizing a major expansion of gambling in what's already the nation's second-largest commercial casino state. The bill will make Pennsylvania the fourth state to allow online gambling, allow the state's current 10 casinos to apply for the right to operate satellite casinos, put video gambling terminals inside truck stops, and allow gambling parlors in airports.

Almost every month, another statehouse in the United States dangles a new opportunity for citizens to spend money on gambling. This isn’t a response to a public clamor for more gambling. It is to shore up the public purse with tax revenues. Pennsylvania is the latest state to extend the false lure of “luck” as a path to rapid riches.

On Oct. 23, a law took effect in the Keystone State that allows casino-style gambling on mobile phones and websites. It also puts video gaming terminals in big truck stops. Pennsylvania is now the fourth state with online gambling. It expects to rake in an additional $100 million a year. Yet state officials have little notion of the law’s impact on problem gamblers and their families and communities.

This sort of expansion in government-sanctioned gambling is an odd trend in the US as many other countries are trying to restrain gambling. A good example is Britain. After allowing a rapid expansion of high-speed betting terminals in 2007, the government announced Oct. 24 that it will reduce the amount of money that players can spend on the machines – which number more than 34,000 across Britain – from $132 to perhaps as low as $1.50.

The fixed-odds terminals are particularly addictive to many people. They are considered the “crack cocaine of gambling.” A government report earlier this year found 43 percent of people who use the machines are either problem or at-risk gamblers.

In addition to reducing the take on gambling terminals, the government says it will no longer allow access for children to gambling sites through social media. And a mass advertising campaign will try to protect those at risk of problem gambling.

“It is vital that we strike the right balance between socially responsible growth and protecting the most vulnerable, including children, from gambling-related harm,” said Gambling Minister Tracey Crouch.

More state officials in the US should take a stand, especially since gambling hits the poor the hardest. In Britain, the gambling terminals are concentrated in the least-wealthy communities. Of those areas with more than 30 betting shops, more than three-quarters have above-average rates of child poverty.

If more American states took a greater regard for the effects that gambling has on the most vulnerable, maybe they would think twice before raising more money from gambling. Poor people and those with gambling addictions instead need help in using talent, teamwork, and education to get ahead.

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