[Demi] Moore's strong flair for taking risks for jumbo-sized
payouts showed up clearly when she dared to pose nude and pregnant
on the cover of Vanity Fair....In fact, Moore's whole life
story is one any lottery player can relate to: a tale of big risks
against long odds and true winner's rewards.
-From a celebrity "profile" of actress Demi Moore in
the January 1996 Lotto World: America's Lottery Magazine.
Put aside questions about gambling's potentially negative effects
on local economies, families, and society as a whole. From a faith
perspective, a more basic reason to oppose gambling will remain:
It is a spiritual parasite.
Gambling feeds off of resources, energy, and hope that could be
turned toward the common good, and spawns false understandings
of what is of true value. The meaning of words like "play,"
"excitement," "courage," "winning,"
"risk," and "security" become distorted and
empty. Gambling may sometimes bring what seem like concrete benefits
to individuals or communities, but an exorbitant price in soul
and culture is paid. And, despite gambling industry claims of
easy gain and wealth to share, there is evidence that most often
the monetary cost is exorbitant as well.
The gambling industry in the United States has grown at an unprecedented
rate during the last few years. Some form of gambling is legal
in every state except Utah and Hawaii. According to U.S. News
and World Report, $482 billion was wagered legally in this
country during 1994. State lotteries raise more than $40 billion
annually in funds for governments.
This growth has far outpaced reliable research on gambling's impact
on communities. The industry promises economic salvation-job creation,
tax revenues, an influx of new money-to entice states to legalize
casinos. Those same promises cause some of the poorest towns and
areas (manufacturing towns whose industries have died or fled,
Indian reservations, struggling agricultural regions) to scramble
for casinos. But there is not an abundance of objective research
to guide such government and community decisions.
Congress will likely vote this year for a national commission
to study legalized gambling, a helpful move (and one being fiercely
opposed by the American Gaming Association, the gambling industry's
lobbying arm). And already some evidence does exist that far from
creating the promised economic utopias, gambling at best brings
Profits and tax revenues do usually flow, but new jobs at casinos
are often offset by jobs lost from local businesses (such as restaurants)
hurt by the casino's arrival. Money coming in to local governments
from gambling tax revenues is balanced by extra funds going out
for increased demands on the criminal justice system, social services,
and civic infrastructures.
ALL THE WHILE, of course, the gambling industry and state-run
lotteries are pulling in abundant profits, in large part extracted
from the dreams of the poor and middle class. Having often given
up on working their way out of poverty in an economy of diminishing
opportunities, the poorest people spend a disproportionately higher
percentage of their incomes on lotteries. State advertising of
lotteries plays off of this, being most heavily concentrated in
low-income areas. In effect, lotteries are "voluntary taxation,"
often of those with the least. This is doubly ironic considering
the trend toward slashing government spending on social programs
that most benefit the poor.
While the percentage of people for whom gambling becomes an addiction
may be fairly small, the impact on their families and the surrounding
social fabric can be quite devastating. Divorce, lost jobs, stealing
(to pay gambling debts), depression, and suicide are all more
prevalent among compulsive gamblers.
There are some sure signs of hope in the face of the gambling
industry's rampant growth and the attendant economic and social
damage, especially (but not exclusively) among people of faith.
Mainline churches that have historically taken stands against
gambling, such as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian
Church (USA), have both reaffirmed their stance and increased
education efforts among their members. In January, the Mennonite
Board of Missions co-sponsored a "casino consultation"
in Gulfport, Mississippi (14 casinos are in that area). The consultation
focused on how Mennonite congregations can theologically and pastorally
respond to gambling in their community.
In an unusual move, the traditionally liberal National Council
of Churches and the conservative Christian Coalition have jointly
spoken out against the spread of gambling. Representatives of
both groups spoke at a news conference announcing the opening
of the Washington, D.C. office of the National Coalition Against
Legalized Gambling (NCALG).
Tom Grey, a United Methodist pastor, serves as field coordinator
and spokesperson for NCALG, a grassroots, low-budget group which
has successfully stopped or slowed gambling expansion in several
states and communities across the country. The group encompasses
both religious and secular members and has united people across
the political and faith spectrums.
Many people, of course, participate in gambling for no other reason
than they find it fun. And in uncertain times, the prospect of
a small outlay bringing in a large return is unmistakably appealing.
But the concepts of "something for nothing" and "winner
take all" are not quite what our faith says about life, hope,
and love for our neighbor. They are no more appropriate for good
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