Gambling Gridlock

No one is more aware of the pernicious effects of gambling than my good friend Rep. Frank Wolf. He has tirelessly campaigned for federal legislation to fund a study of the effects of gambling on society. But thanks to the gambling industry-and its thick wad of campaign money-his efforts have so far run into a brick wall. So, last April, Rep. Wolf sat down and wrote a little letter to the heads of both political parties-one that might, if it's acted upon-do more to end gambling than any campaign finance law we could ever get passed. In his letter to Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican Committee, and Gov. Roy Romer, chairman of the Democrats, Wolf argued that gambling is bad for American families. To begin with, studies have found a clear correlation between gambling and a rise in divorce rates. Mississippi's Harrison County averaged 500 more divorces per year since the advent of casino gambling. Just this week NBC carried a heart-pounding account of how seniors lose their savings in casinos. Wolf also pointed out that gambling increases domestic violence. A study in Maryland found that rates of domestic violence and child abuse skyrocket when legalized gambling is introduced into a community. In Central City, Colorado, Wolf wrote, child protection cases rose six-fold the year after casinos arrived. Wolf reminded Romer and Nicholson that crime, corruption, suicide, and financial ruin are also associated with the introduction of legalized gambling. Yet despite these ills, Wolf's proposal to do something about gambling is going nowhere fast. Why? Well, it's partly because states are addicted to the revenues generated by legalized gambling. It takes a brave politician like South Carolina's Governor David Beasley to give up these huge revenues. But a more insidious reason, I'm afraid, is that the gambling industry spends millions buying influence with politicians. During the 1996 election, the New York Times found that the gambling industry contributed more than seven million dollars to political campaigns. So in his letter to Romer and Nicholson, Wolf wrote: "I would like to offer a suggestion: A good first step toward meaningful reform could happen today if both major political parties would refuse to accept one more dollar from the gambling industry. "I urge you," Wolf said, "to jointly call a halt to taking this money. With both major parties taking this action, neither party would have an advantage over the other. The winners would be the American family-moms, dads, kids everywhere." Wolf is right. The purpose of government is to protect the innocent. But too often local governments have been taken in by the gambling industry's get-rich-quick schemes, and the result is local leaders often influenced by gambling industry's big money have helped the industry prey on citizens. And we don't really need campaign finance reform to agree that some industries are so harmful to the body politic that their money is tainted and should be off-limits. And that certainly includes the gambling industry. While neither Nicholson nor Romer has acted on Wolf's proposal yet-there's something you can do to get the ball rolling. Contact your own representative and ask them to take the pledge: For the sake of our families, don't accept gambling money. Someone once called money "the mother's milk of politics." Well, I say it's time that our leaders declare themselves lactose intolerant.


Chuck Colson


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