View Point

By David A. Pendleton

Friday, February 21, 1997

Don’t gamble with
Hawaii’s precious assets

Bill legalizing casinos would cost islands
too much in social woes

ON Feb. 14, the House voted to legalize gambling in Hawaii. With a 27-24 vote, the House kept alive a bill that would allow a casino in any of Hawaii's four counties if a majority of voters residing there approved it by referendum.

While many states are reassessing the wisdom of their involvement and promotion of gambling, our leaders are literally betting on this "quick fix" for our sagging economy despite the great odds.

Perhaps longtime committee members (I am a first-term legislator) have forgotten the testimony offered last year by Robert Goodman, an author and professor at Hampshire College and a former columnist at the Boston Globe .

After a comprehensive study of the economic, social, legal and political aspects of government participation in gambling, Goodman found that "communities welcome casinos as beneficent saviors for ailing economies, but almost always based on inflated expectations that turn into broken promises."

There are several reasons to reject legalized gambling:

It inflicts social and economic burdens on society. While there is some momentary increase in jobs and tax revenues, gambling has an ultimately parasitic effect on existing local businesses. Gambling drains vitality from local retailers and restaurants by diverting consumer dollars into a non-productive sector.

According to U.S. News and World Report (Jan. 1996), gambling tends to move money around the local economy rather than creating a positive economic increase in jobs and services. In short, gambling is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic when we should be trying to avert an imminent collision.

There are devastating social effects, among which is rising child abuse. According to Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Current, areas that expanded its gambling industry experienced a dramatic rise in family violence.

The cost of gambling also manifests itself in broken families and divorce, suicide and crime, attested to by studies in Harrison County, Miss., and in Illinois. Nevada is a leader in suicide with a rate of more than double the national average, as documented by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the U.S., 1995.

Local leaders know gambling is a magnet for organized crime. Steven Alm, U.S. Attorney for Hawaii, testified before the state House Judiciary Committee that organized crime has infiltrated the gambling industry in Louisiana. Hawaii does not need an influx of organized crime.

Gambling disproportionately adversely impacts certain economic classes. In other words, gambling attracts the poor. States with lotteries confirm that more low-income and poverty-stricken citizens gamble than those in other income brackets.

Data on gambling is faulty because many of the "studies" are sponsored by the gambling industry. Those "studies" often exaggerate the economic gains and understate the social costs.

By legalizing the gambling industry, the state abandons its role as guardian of public health, morality and safety. In order to increase revenues based on gambling, the state will be tempted to promote to its citizenry the seductive maxim "you can get something for nothing" and that there is such a thing as a "free lunch."

Gambling is morally problematic. While it can be viewed as a diversion, it sends the message that the role of chance is an appropriate way to increase one's material worth instead of through perseverance, diligence and industry. The day that our society endorses and embraces this concept is the day Hawaii accelerates the slide toward moral bankruptcy.

We ought to be examining long-term ways to promote new skills, training and businesses that can have a lasting benefit for our citizens. Let's build our future on realistic goals based on hard work, and personal responsibility and development - not the roll of the dice.

David A. Pendleton represents House District 50
(Kailua-Kaneohe) in the state Legislature.

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