It's Not Worth It
By Congressman Joe Pitts
In May, a young man named Andre sat down at a blackjack table in Joliet, Illinois. It wasn't yet 5:00 in the morning, and no one knows how long he had been gambling that night. In 15 minutes, he lost $900. He stood up and said to the other players, "It was nice knowing you." He then walked outside to his car, returned to the front door of the casino, and shot himself in the mouth.
I don't know if Andre was a compulsive gambler or if he had ever gambled before at all. But dramatic increases in suicide are one of the many grisly consequences that follow when communities succumb to the temptation of easy money dangled before them by the gambling industry.
The statistics are overwhelming and cannot be ignored. In the two years following the arrival of the first two casinos in Gulfport, Mississippi, the suicide rate rose by 213 percent. Nearby, in Biloxi, suicide attempts exploded by 1,000 percent just in the first year. An academic study determined that Las Vegas "displays the highest levels of suicide in the nation." A survey of nearly 200 members of Gamblers Anonymous in Illinois found that 79 percent of them wanted to die.
But suicide isn't the only effect that casinos have on the communities. The terrible effects are almost endless.
Personal bankruptcies skyrocket. Atlantic City has a much higher bankruptcy rate than New Jersey's other 21 counties. Higher than Camden. Higher than Jersey City. It is worth pointing out that the money taken from those who fall into bankruptcy is the same money the gambling industry uses to fulfill its promises of increased revenue to local governments. Most of the money, of course, goes into the pockets of the predators who own the casinos.
The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, created under President Clinton, heard "abundant testimony and evidence" that gambling results in divorce. In Harrison County, Mississippi, where there are ten casinos, the number of divorces has increased by nearly 300 percent since the first casino was built. The commission also reported that the children of compulsive gamblers "are often prone to suffer abuse, as well as neglect."
One of the most dramatic effects is increased crime. This should weigh heavily in the minds of City Council before they welcome a casino into Lancaster. U.S. News and World Report calculated that average crime in communities with casinos is 84 percent higher than in communities without them. The number of crimes within a 30-mile radius of Atlantic City doubled in the nine years following the introduction of casinos.
These facts and statistics are not just data. They are the personal stories of thousands and perhaps millions of Americans whose lives have been harmed or destroyed by gambling. Gambling is extremely addictive, meaning that its mere availability is the deciding factor in whether or not lives are harmed and families are torn apart.
The opposition to gambling is not partisan, nor is it a purely moral issue that concerns only Christians and conservatives like me. To our south, it was the Democratic state legislature that fought vehemently to stop Republican Governor Bob Erlich's effort to allow 10,500 slot machines in communities across Maryland.
Michael Busch, the Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, is a Democrat who lost his father to gambling. He was also a leading opponent of Governor Erlich's gambling proposal. He told the Washington Post, "People are going to say, No wonder Busch is against this, it's just because it's a personal family issue.' But that not it. I've certainly gambled before. I accept it for what it is. I'm not going to make a judgment on my father or others who do that. But the point of this is that I have had great exposure to the issue. I understand more about gambling than most people, more than I should probably admit to. When people talk about bringing 4,500 slot machines to a racetrack or casinos in the Inner Harbor, I know exactly what that means."
State Senator Mac Middleton is another Democrat who fought the governor. Middleton's father almost lost the family farm in 1955 after gambling away the entire proceeds of his wheat harvest. His father never gambled again. "My dad saw the evils of slot machines," Middleton told the Post. "I tell people that he would turn over in his grave if I wasn't part of some kind of opposition, if I didn't try to resist in some way."
The opening of a casino in the heart of Lancaster County would be an affront and an insult to the conservative values of most people who live here. But that is only evidence of the lack of regard the proponents of the casino have for their neighbors. What is far more important is the serious human toll a casino would have on the most vulnerable members of our community. The evidence is overwhelming that it is the poor, the elderly, children, and minorities who suffer the most when casinos come to town.
Allowing a casino in Lancaster would be a tremendous mistake. Let's put the welfare of our neighbors before the promise of easy money. Let's not learn this lesson the hard way.