Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 28, 1999
U.S. report details gambling damage
By NANCY FRAZIER O'BRIEN
Catholic News Service
A two-year study has found that gambling operations, including lotteries, sometimes cost more in social damage than they benefit the state economically.
The National Gambling Impact Study Commission also said June 18 that gambling often targets the poor and addicted.
But Catholic leaders could have told them that long ago.
"As a priest, I have seen too many lives ruined, too many families destroyed, too much property lost and too many souls lost because they've become addicted to gambling," Father Eugene McKenna, president of Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling, recently said.
A report by four Duke University researchers for the gambling impact commission found that heaviest players of state lotteries were disproportionately male, black, high school dropouts and those with incomes under $10,000 a year.
The study found that 51.5 per cent of the adult U.S. population had played the lottery in the previous year, with an average expenditure of $313 per person.
Black lottery players spent an average of $998 annually, while white players spent $210 and Hispanic players $289 a year.
For those with household income under $10,000, the average spending on lottery tickets was $520 a year; for those with incomes over $100,000 the average household spending on lotteries was $338.
Although no state had a lottery in modern times before 1964, they're now a big business.
State lotteries in the United States raised $2 billion in 1973, $17.6 billion in 1987, and $34 billion in 1997.
The latter figure does not include revenue from video lottery terminals which the Catholic Conference of Kentucky terms "the most intoxicating, addictive form of gambling."
The Duke report says lotteries are "in a sense the state governments' biggest business venture, and a rather problematic one given widespread ethical and pragmatic concerns about gambling."
"These concerns are compounded by the fact that state lottery agencies adopt marketing practices that are intended to persuade people to spend more on this form of gambling than they otherwise would," it added.
The commission's report itself found some social benefits to casino gambling, especially in terms of jobs for poor communities.
McKenna would not agree.
"Have you been to Atlantic City?" he asked. "Would you like to live in a community where tourists fear for their lives if they venture off the boardwalk? That's typical of the type of crime-infested neighbourhoods that grow and flourish around casinos."
Kay Coles James kept her personal views on gambling to herself throughout the two years she chaired the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.
But at the June 18 press conference to release the final report, she declared herself firmly "anti-gambling."
James said she found it "extremely disturbing" to see how many Americans had gambling problems.
"When states aggressively promote behaviour that has the potential to be so destructive," James said, "they depart from their fundamental role to protect their citizens."