Today I attended my first Board meeting for Stop Predatory Gambling Kentucky. We introduced ourselves and found that we were a pretty diverse group. Some have a faith perspective. Others represented social service organizations or were business people in the community who had seen first hand the problems related to predatory gambling practices. Regardless of why we came, every person around the table was committed to revealing the broken promises of the gambling industry, telling the truth about the true cost of gambling to society, and fighting to protect our citizens from predatory practices by our own state government.
During our meeting we discussed the need for educating lawmakers, media, and the population at large. A new book, Addiction By Design, has been written by Dr. Natasha Schull of MIT’s Program in Science, Technology and Society. Her book is “the most important and revealing investigation into the design and technology behind electronic gambling machines to date. Every public official, member of the media and concerned citizen needs to read the book, especially in light of the reality that state governments across the U.S. are actively pushing these machines to their own citizens.” Dr. Schull’s work is based on years of research and reveals that the gambling equipment of today is highly addictive and designed to encourage people to “gamble to extinction.”
After our meeting, we gathered in the Rotunda for the Stop Predatory Gambling Kentucky launch event. Keren Henderson, executive director for the new group, introduced the launch. John Mark Hack, a businessman who has been active in anti-gambling efforts for a number of years, spoke about the issues that the group will be bringing before lawmakers. He explained that Stop Predatory Gambling Kentucky will be using data obtained through the Kentucky open records law to expose the truth about gambling impact. He challenged the media to use the law and do their own research, explaining that his findings show that lottery ticket sales per capita are the highest in the the zip codes with the lowest incomes, making the lottery a regressive tax on the poorest citizens. In addition, the very program the lottery is supposed to fund does not receive enough money to provide all of the promised scholarships. (http://www.kentucky.com/2012/07/15/2259066/kentucky-lawmakers-divert-thmillions.html).
Katie Carter of Kentucky Youth Advocates spoke about the impact of gambling on families and youth. We saw a feature on gambling addiction which was aired on Sixty Minutes in 2011. In this segment Lesley Stahl reported “on the proliferation of gambling to 38 states and its main attraction, the slot machine, newer versions of which some scientists believe may addict their players.” Dr. Natasha Schull was among those interviewed.
The last speaker for the launch was Tom Riesbeck whose plumbing business in Lexington was nearly destroyed by the embezzlement of his book-keeper who stole from him to fund her gambling addiction. Tom spoke from personal experience of all the people who were hurt because of the actions of this one person.
I have to wonder – what if the lottery and other gambling commercials were honest? Here’s what they would say: “Hey, Kentucky. Come on in and lose your money. We need part of what you lose to pay our bills. Play responsibly – it’s only a game to you – but it is big money to us. Hurry up – lose today.”
I am investing my time and energy into this effort because my faith calls me to love God and love my neighbor. Love of neighbor compels my efforts in combatting social and moral problems. And predatory gambling is a problem that causes a ripple effect of other problems including crime, destruction of families, increased foreclosures, and the list goes on. Thus, I must speak out and challenge you to join me.