May 28, 2004

Commentary

The Dark Side of Indian Gaming

By Ramona Shashaani

Indian gaming has radically improved the quality of life of native Americans such that, as Symington (spokeswoman for Viejas) boasts, “there isn’t one tribal member at Viejas that qualifies for federal aid programs.” In fact, with Indian gaming’s huge revenues, the average tribal member has gone from being a welfare recipient to a mega-wealthy beneficiary, reaping high income for the rest of his/her life.

To the same extent as Indian gaming has helped improve the economic, health and educational needs of tribal members and added low-paying jobs for others, it has also caused a significant rise in the baffling, insidious and progressive disease of compulsive gambling. More than half of gambling revenues derive from compulsive gamblers.

The existence of nine casinos in San Diego county, has distinguished our city as “California’s casino capital,” a fact used by the tourism industry to lure more tourists to the “world’s finest city!” But being number one always has its costs. Gambling has caused untold social, financial and emotional devastation to the growing numbers of problem, or pathological, gamblers in this county. Between three to five percent of our adult population is addicted to gambling, and the numbers keep rising.

The State cannot gamble itself rich, nor can the individual. But this doesn’t prevent the government from encouraging legalized gambling to fill state budget deficits. California Lottery’s revenue, which was supposed to help boost our needy education system, has not only failed to improve our deteriorating system of education, it has created a class of tax for poor people who have flunked arithmetic. And everyday, we witness the loss of more distinguished teachers and library resources due to unreasonable budget cuts! Where does the lotto money go exactly? When was it last accounted for?

Now, our governor is calling for 25% taxation of the Indian casinos to avoid the state’s insolvency.

Whereas cigarette and alcohol advertisement has been banned, the steady stream of advertisements by the gambling industry is relentless. Their ads cover our television screens, newspapers, bill-boards and mail solicitations, luring people to casinos to win the big bucks! They try to make believe that gambling is just a bit of light-hearted fun and games.

However, no one is talking about the dark side of gambling. Indeed, gambling is not like other recreational activities with a mere entertainment value like the movies and sports. It has the added elements of being extremely addictive to people with a predisposition to fall prey to gambling, for life. Due to an insatiable greed, the gaming industry knowingly capitalizes upon the weakness and misery of millions of Americans. According to National Council on Problem Gambling, Americans lost $68.7 billion to gambling in 2003. 70% of adults in America report gambling at least once in the past year. 1% of the population (or 3 million adults) meet the criteria for pathological gambling. Another 3% are known as problem gamblers, whose disease has not progressed to compulsive gambling yet. Moreover, gamblers are more likely to have other addictions including smoking, drinking and drug abuse. However, unlike chemical addictions, gambling has no outward signs until it’s too late!

The people most at risk of compulsive gambling are gaming employees, youth, military personnel and seniors. Whereas gambling used to be more prevalent amongst men who thrived on being “in action,” more and more women are now driven to gamble their lives and families away to Las Vegas style slot machines. Many turn to gambling to escape problems associated with depression and midlife crisis. A stronger link exists between gambling and suicide than with other addictions. We have all heard of desperate compulsive gamblers who have jumped from bridges, shot their families and themselves to escape their misery and put an end to their interminable shame and guilt. Programs like gambler’s anonymous exist to support compulsive gambler to quit gambling. Most problem gamblers, however, fail to admit that they have a problem, or think they can return to control their gambling after attending a few meetings. Once an individual crosses the invisible line of compulsive gambling, there is no cure. Gambling can only be arrested or get you arrested.

Known byproducts of compulsive gambling include: Theft, loan sharking, auto theft, credit card fraud, identity theft, forging checks, extortion, embezzlement, tax fraud, bankruptcies, threats, violence, bribes, prostitution, distribution and sale of narcotics, fencing, and murder/suicide.

Our courts are quick to punish gambling-related crimes, putting compulsive gamblers behind bars and ordering them to attend GA meetings. Though the casinos and state may reap enormous profits from the incurable disease of problem gamblers, there are no state- funded programs or centers to aid in the recovery of compulsive gamblers who desperately want to quit, but cannot do it on their own. I challenge the Indian casinos to give some of their profits to fund a Gamblers’ Recovery and Treatment Center properly staffed and equipped to render effective outpatient as well as residential support to those whose lives have been destroyed as a result of the massive sums of money they have contributed to the Native American people’s autonomy and economic growth. I urge every tribe in San Diego to reach out and help those who cannot help themselves. I also challenge the governor and the State of California to allocate a percentage of the taxes it wishes to exact from Indian gaming industry, to assist in the recovery of compulsive gamblers who can never become cured, but can live a normal and happy life of abstinence with the help they deserve.

Ms Ramona Shashaani has practiced law in California as a workers’ compensation attorney for the past 17 years. She can be emailed at: r_shashaani@sbcglobal.net

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