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In our opinion: Gambling addiction

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 3 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

The Strip, overview Photo by Las Vegas News Bureau

LAS VEGAS NEWS BUREAU,

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Few behaviors are as devastating to personal and familial well being as compulsive indulgence in substances or behaviors that rob individuals of dignity and money. Addicts rarely prosper.

This is particularly true for gambling addicts. For some who indulge in gambling, the wild ride of gambling's risk and reward is every bit as mesmerizing and addictive as cocaine. And the results are disastrous as life savings and self-worth are squandered in the irrational pursuit of winnings. Experts agree that for pathological gamblers the cravings are rarely dulled, except through disciplined efforts like 12-step programs and careful monitoring.

Studies consistently show that although so-called problem gamblers make up a small percentage of all gamblers but they provide a disproportionate amount of the revenue. For example, Canadian university researchers found that although about 4.8 percent of Ontario gamblers had a moderate to severe gambling problem, their compulsive wagering provided about 35 percent of Ontario's gaming revenue, and about 60 percent of revenue from gambling machines.

States that allow gambling, along with the gaming industry itself, have claimed to be concerned with the plight of the gambling addict. Consequently, as states in recent decades decided to allow gambling, some have enacted various policies and safeguards to prevent compulsive gamblers from utterly ruining their lives.

Some states, like Colorado, initially limited the stakes at casinos and required casinos to close, providing a kind of fuse breaker for bouts of compulsive gaming. Other states have created lists of gambling addicts that provide essentially a restraining order against self-identified addicts from entering casinos.

But the fact that compulsive gamblers provide disproportionate revenue is not lost on the gaming industry, and sadly it is not lost on states that have become increasingly dependent on and hungry for the revenues derived from legalized gambling.

When Colorado saw other revenue streams dry up after the 2008 downturn, the state removed the gambling fuse breakers by increasing stakes from $2 to $100 and let casino's operate 24/7.

Recently Missouri, which legalized riverboat gambling in 1996, chose to ease its restrictions on compulsive gamblers. Missouri is one of a few states that allowed gamblers to identify themselves as having a problem such that they could blacklist themselves from Missouri casinos for life.

Although there were logistical challenges enforcing the ban, thousands of self-identified problem gamblers have been expelled from Missouri casinos over the years because of the blacklist. But cash-strapped Missouri, instead of finding ways to improve enforcement of their voluntarily imposed ban, has opted to ease it from a lifetime restriction to five-years.

Behavioral experts agree that compulsive gambling might be controlled but never cured. Nonetheless, Missouri has decided to welcome back to its wealth-depleting slots and tables 11,000 self-identified gambling addicts who have been on the casino blacklist for more than five years. Of course these are not just any addicts, these are the rare addicts who actually sought to make use of a tool that they hoped might prevent harm to themselves and their families.

We deplore all the lies associated with gambling and lament the inevitable sorrow that surrounds it. We find it particularly contemptible that states would cynically seek additional revenue by abandoning controls designed to protect vulnerable addicts. It is an irresponsible government that allows such practices to persist. It is a predatory state that profits from them.

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