Louisiana, like most states with legalized gambling, has a “problem gambling” helpline. As the Louisiana State Senate prepares to take up a massive gambling expansion Monday, it might be time for some state legislators to make that call themselves.
Despite the well-documented harms of gambling addiction to families and to society, the Louisiana legislature is considering a slew of bills that would expand the size and scope of existing casinos, open up new locations, and weaken state regulations that were designed to protect families from the ravages of addiction and debt. The promise of more revenue and jobs for the state are hard to resist, but those bright lights and flashy promises are a façade for the sad truth that gambling harms families. Any pastor can tell you that gambling has far-reaching — and sometimes devastating — consequences.
While sponsors of gambling expansion bills argue that larger casinos with more attractions and more opportunities to gamble will increase the state’s revenue, they also insist that gambling needs less state oversight and more sweetheart deals, like extending the exclusive, no-bid contract to Harrah’s New Orleans operation. Which is it? Does gambling expansion produce increased revenue for the state, or does it need state-sponsored monopolies and sweetheart deals? Both, if bill sponsors are to be believed.
It’s understandable that a legislator might be attracted to easy money, but a statesman should also consider gambling’s societal cost. Two years ago a Louisiana Department of Health study found (p. 16) that although Helpline calls were declining, the rate of potential pathological and problem gamblers doubled and tripled, respectively, from just eight years prior. Last year The Economist estimated that in 2016 Americans lost $117 billion on state-sanctioned gambling.
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