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August 17, 2002
Column #1094

A New Weapon To Fight Gambling: The Lawsuit

     What government would pass a $1 tax increase that would lose $2 in tax revenue from other sources? The same government that would increase bankruptcies, divorce and suicide - YOUR negligent state government, unless you live in Utah, the rare state with no legalized gambling.

     Some 38 states now have lotteries - often five different kinds: instant games, daily numbers games, lotto, electric terminals for keno and video lottery. Gambling is now Rhode Island's third largest source of revenue, next to only personal and corporate income taxes.

     But at what cost? Americans gamble away more money than they pay for groceries! 

     Lotteries subsist on a small percentage of very heavy players whose average expenditures are $3,800 per year, according to the 1999 National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) report. Only 5 percent of players accounted for more than half of total sales. It is a disastrous investment. The chances of winning the California Lotto Jackpot are one in 14 million. 

     Richard Leone, a NGISC Commissioner, said that "State lotteries have paved the way for great increases in legalized gambling (by) propagating the myth that gambling is good for society. The best studies point in the same direction. Lotteries prey on the poor and the undereducated."

     The advertising plan for Ohio's Super Lotto game designed promotions to coincide with the receipt of welfare and Social Security checks, the Commission reported.

     Gambling is devastating to many of those it touches. It "ruins lives and wrecks families," said Dr. James Dobson, another member of the Commission. "A mountain of evidence presented to our Commission demonstrates a direct link between problem and pathological gambling and divorce, child abuse, domestic violence, bankruptcy, crime and suicide. More than 15.4 million adults and adolescents meet the technical criteria of those disorders. 

     "When other activities, such as smoking, have been shown to be harmful, the hue and cry for regulations to warn and protect the public has been loud and long. Today the silence of most of our leaders about the risks of gambling is deafening. It is well past time for a Paul Revere to sound the alarm. Gambling is hazardous to your - to our - health."

     There is such a Paul Revere. He is Rev. Tom Grey, a United Methodist pastor and director of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. I caught up with him in Rhode Island this week, where he was invited by the Rhode Island Council of Churches to testify to a commission against expanding the state's 3,000 video lotteries by another 1,800.

     This year alone, he helped persuade such states as Illinois, New Hampshire, Florida, Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio and Maryland not to install slot machines at race tracks. And Hawaii, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana rejected adding casinos while Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Wyoming resisted the lottery's blandishments.

     The issue will be part of this fall's elections. Tennessee voters will ballot on adding a lottery. In Maryland, the likely Republican candidate for governor favors slots at racetracks while the probable Democratic nominee opposes them. Both of Pennsylvania's candidates for governor favor adding video gambling at racetracks and the Democrat also lusts after river boat casinos. 

     However, Tom Grey has good news. He sees a calvary about to come to the rescue. Who? 

     Trial lawyers, believe it or not. He pointed to a case in Canada, a $579,000 class action lawsuit against Loto Quebec on behalf of 119,000 people who confess to being pathological gamblers, addicted to video lottery terminals. The lead plantiff in the case is Jean Brochu, a former municipal councillor who defrauded his own professional association of $50,000 to feed his addiction. After receiving treatment, he is once again practicing law. 

     What is sought for each gambler is reasonable: $2,800 to cover 30 days of therapy, $500 for psychological followup, $500 for medical expenses, $983 for lost salary during treatment.

     "Machines put out by your friendly government on Main Street have created addicts," says Rev. Grey. "When Scott Harshberger was Attorney General in Massachusetts, he was one of the leaders who brought suits against the tobacco companies. Now head of Common Cause, he believes similar law suits will be filed against states promoting gambling as a public health issue."

     Consider suicides and murders related to gambling. Casinowatch.org reports that a small business owner, already $500,000 in debt, squandered $225,000 at Las Vegas casinos, then murdered his pregnant wife and three children before killing himself. In Atlantic City there were three suicides in three recent months related to gambling.

     Unleash the lawyers! 

 
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