Let the good times roll, no matter the cost
The Kansas City Star
Whenever wagering gets started around me — be it at casinos or office pools to guess the market outcomes or for lottery tickets — I shy away, strangely offering that I never gamble.
That inflexible, personal quirk in these times of a “dollar and a dream” seems odd to many, but it has kept me out of trouble. I have visited casinos, race tracks and places where lottery tickets are sold nationwide and watched gamblers hoping to elevate themselves to Mitt Romney’s 1 percent level.
They’re at the slot machines, the tables, the pari-mutuel betting windows, the convenience stores and the gas stations. They make their best guesses, winning a little but most often losing a lot.
None seems happy, just mesmerized by the game. That sort of all-in, one-day-my-luck-will-change behavior is why the Missouri General Assembly’s effort to let casinos lend money to gamblers made about as much sense as open bars at alcoholics’ recovery meetings.
The Missouri House Financial Institutions Committee put the change into a banking bill in April. It went to the full House after approval from the Rules Committee. Fortunately it didn’t make it into law.
Gamblers and places where they play would label such legislative prudence a “nanny state” action. Folks who want casinos to give gamblers’ loans point to Illinois.
Across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, overpaid and cash-fat professional athletes go to casinos in the land of Lincoln and Obama, where they can get credit extensions and surrender more money to gambling than most working Joes and Josephines make in a year. That looks good particularly now that Missouri casinos, which had been raking in a lot of money, are starting to see their pots topping out.
Other states such as Kansas have gotten into the casino game. That will lessen the take for casinos in Missouri, particularly in the Kansas City area.
Instead of the number of gamblers expanding to play at the increasing number of betting joints, the casinos will have to fight for the stagnant share of people willing to risk losing their money. Enabling Missouri casinos to extend credit to gamblers would have helped casinos maintain an edge — or at least compete with neighboring state casinos.
Never mind that it hurts Missourians. They don’t count when big money is at stake.
But they count when social service agencies or the state must pick up the tab for ruined gamblers. Government, churches and community groups would potentially shoulder a greater burden in job losses, prison time for embezzling, food stamps and welfare for families without breadwinners, homeless shelters because mortgages or rent went unpaid and foster homes for kids.
But people need their freedom to do with their money what they choose, even if they are problem gamblers. The House add-on would have enabled destructive behavior. Expect the bill to return next legislative session because Missouri has been headed down this ruinous path for 20 years. First the proverbial camel had to get its nose under the tent.
That happened in 1992. Voters in the Show-Me State approved riverboat gambling, making sure that the casinos actually went on the state’s biggest rivers. It was the start of the entire hard-drinking, cigarette smoking, gambling camel working its way in.
Initially if you missed the boat, you didn’t gamble. That was a way to limit losses. As was an initial loss limit of $500 every two hours. But at the urgings of card-dealing casinos, voters changed those laws.
All 12 casinos in the state are stationary now, enabling gamblers to enter when they want. Sin — whether smoking, drinking or gambling — in these places rests very little.
Our state has to keep up and compete, right? According to the Gaming Commission, 10 of the 15 states with riverboat or land-based casinos allow gambling joints to grant credit.
The good times have to continue to roll, according to the casinos, which are big money makers in the state.
But the losers are some of our neighbors, their spouses and kids.
The community picks up the tab for those very human losses, and they are huge. The question is whether the state and our society will extend credit for rescues if the destructive games get their way.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid call 816-234-4723 or send e-mail to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.