Send Those Riverboats Back

Stand on the banks of the Mississippi River these days, and you're likely to see a quaint sternwheeler riverboat chugging its way up from New Orleans, bringing slot machines and blackjack tables to places like Iowa and Indiana. Yes, gambling has spread beyond Las Vegas and is spilling across America's heartland. Nearly every state in the union now has some form of legalized gambling. Lawmakers welcome casinos as a short cut to increased tax revenues, new jobs, and urban renewal. Stop and think what an astonishing turn-about this is. Just 25 years ago, gambling was considered a vice, pursued in seedy back rooms and run by the Mafia. But today the casino business has been taken over by major corporations like Hilton and Holiday Inn. It's managed by executives in pin stripes and accountants with MBAs. Gambling halls are being redesigned as colorful theme parks modeled on Disney World. Today gambling is advertised as good fun for the whole family. Just think, kids can enjoy rides and amusements while Dad and Mom hit it big . . . or, more likely, gamble away the family savings. That's the side no one wants to think about, of course. But the truth is that gambling exacts steep social costs, costs that lawmakers ought to be weighing very seriously. As gambling becomes respectable, more people are falling into the trap of compulsive gambling. Hot lines for gambling addicts are reporting a dramatic increase in calls. Many casinos have posted signs threatening to prosecute parents who leave their children in the car. Parents were literally abandoning their children outside for hours as they lost all track of time in a gambling haze. Then there's the problem of crime. People coming to gamble have money with them, and criminals know it. The Atlantic City police department figures that each casino brings with it on average 1,000 crimes a year, from petty theft to assault. Juvenile delinquency climbs, too, as parents are enticed into spending evenings and weekends away from their families, leaving youngsters unsupervised. What makes gambling so addictive? I believe it's a symptom of the decline of the work ethic. Many people today are less willing to invest in hard work, education, and savings to get ahead. We are more easily tempted by the promise of getting something for nothing. It's a trend that's especially devastating to the poor. In a Chicago ghetto, a colorful billboard showing a lottery ticket says, "This Could Be Your Ticket Out." Notice that the prize is dangled before those who spend their money, not those who work and save. A lot of welfare checks are buying lottery tickets instead of food for the dinner table. As Christians we ought to be demanding that our lawmakers clamp tighter limits on gambling. Gambling creates no new wealth. It manufactures nothing useful. And it imposes a heavy social cost in crime and family dysfunction. The Iowa senate recently said no to a bill to expand riverboat gambling in their state. Let's work and pray that all our lawmakers will make that kind of sober assessment of this ancient vice. And that they'll begin sending those riverboat casinos chugging right back down the Mississippi . . . empty-handed.


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary