Gambling—The Addiction of the ’90’s
A CAMERA loaded with color film captures the sight. The picture covers a full two-page spread in a Sunday newspaper—almost as far as the eye can see, a giant warehouse converted into a bingo parlor, thousands of square feet of it, is alive with gaming patrons of all ages and colors. See their weary faces and bloodshot eyes, signs of hours of endless play? They anxiously await the call of the next number that, hopefully, could see them finally winning in what may have been a winless night.
Turn the pages of the newspaper. See the concerned faces of people with fists full of playing cards, fearful of holding a losing hand? In many cases thousands of dollars are won and lost at the draw of the next card. Go beyond the pictures. Can you see the sweaty palms of a nervous hand? Can you hear the rapid heartbeat, the silent prayer asking for a better hand the next time and a losing one for the other players?
Step inside the luxurious casinos in swank hotels and riverboats. Are you lost in a labyrinth of gaily colored slot machines? Are you deafened by the sound of their handles being pulled and the whirring noise of spinning reels? Win or lose, it is the sound of music to the ears of players. “The action for them is the thrill of what’s going to happen in the next pull of that slot-machine handle,” said the head of one casino.
Wend your way through the jungle of people to the crowded roulette tables. You can be hypnotized by the spin of the wheel with its red and black compartments whirling before your eyes. The sound of the tumbling ball adds to the spell. Around and around it goes, and where it stops means the difference between winning and losing. Thousands of dollars are often lost on a single spin of the wheel.
Multiply the pictures and scenarios by the tens of thousands, the players by countless millions, and the locations by the thousands worldwide. They come by plane, train, bus, ship, and car to all parts of the world to satisfy their lust for gambling. It has been called “the hidden disease, the addiction of the ’90s: Compulsive gambling.” “I predict the 1990s will mark the historic heyday of legalized gambling throughout the world,” said researcher Durand Jacobs, a national authority on gambling behavior.
In the United States, for example, in 1993 more Americans went to casinos than to major-league baseball parks—92 million visits. The building of new gambling establishments seems endless. Hotel operators on the East Coast are euphoric. “There are not nearly enough existing rooms to accommodate the estimated 50,000 casino visitors a day.”
In 1994, in many of the southern states, where only a short time ago gambling was considered a sinful activity, it is now welcomed with open arms and considered a savior. “Today, the Bible Belt might as well be renamed the Blackjack Belt, with floating and land-based casinos throughout Mississippi and Louisiana and plans for more in Florida, Texas, Alabama and Arkansas,” observed the U.S.News & World Report. Some religious leaders are now doing a 180-degree turn in their thinking about gambling being sinful. For example, when city officials of New Orleans, Louisiana, christened its first floating casino on the Mississippi River in 1994, one clergyman offered a prayer, thanking God for “the ability to play: a virtue with which,” he said “you have blessed the city.”
By the year 2000, it is expected that 95 percent of all Americans will live within a 3- or 4-hour drive of a gambling casino. American Indians have also come in for a giant slice of the gambling pie. The U.S. government has thus far sanctioned their operation of 225 casinos and high-stakes bingo halls nationwide, reported U.S.News & World Report.
When cardrooms, sports wagering, horse and dog racing, church bingo, and the like are added to the mix, it becomes clear how Americans legally wagered $394 billion in 1993, a 17.1-percent increase over the previous year. Those opposed to gambling are perplexed. “The biggest things we have to help people are churches and temples and the government,” said the executive director of one Council on Compulsive Gambling. “And now they’re all in the gambling business.” One American newspaper called the United States a “Gambling Nation” and said that gambling is “America’s real national pastime.”
England has started its first lottery since 1826, and sales are said to be brisk. It is also experiencing a tremendous bingo boom, reported The New York Times Magazine. “Moscow is now honeycombed with busy casinos. And Lebanese gamblers are literally risking their lives to patronize West Beirut gaming houses that draw equal fire from militiamen and religious fundamentalists,” the Times reported. “Big winners are escorted home by casino guards armed with machine guns.”
“Canadians don’t realize they are a nation of gamblers,” said a Canadian provincial gaming regulator. “There is probably, in some regards, a higher level of gaming in Canada than there is in the U.S.,” he added. “Canadians spent more than $10-billion on legal wagers and bets last year—almost 30 times as much as they spent on going to movies,” reported the newspaper The Globe and Mail. “The bingo industry in Canada is much more highly developed than it is or ever was in the U.S. The lottery business is much more highly developed in Canada. That’s true, too, of horse racing,” the paper said.
“No-one knows how many gambling addicts there are in South Africa,” wrote a South African newspaper, “but there are ‘thousands’ at least.” The government of Spain, however, is well aware of its problem and of the growing number of gamblers. Official figures show that many of its 38 million inhabitants gambled away $25 billion in one year, giving Spain one of the world’s highest gambling rates. “Spaniards are inveterate gamblers,” said one man who set up an association to help gamblers. “They always have been. . . . They gamble on horses, on soccer, on lotteries and, of course, on roulette, on poker, on bingo and on those infernal money-gobbling machines.” Only in recent years has compulsive gambling been recognized in Spain as a psychological affliction.
Available evidence suggests that Italy too has been swept along by the gambling fever. Billions are being poured into lotteries and sports but also into newspaper contests and gaming tables. “Gambling has penetrated daily life in every aspect,” said a report issued by a government-financed research group. Today “the level of gambling has reached once-unimaginable heights,” wrote The New York Times, “and from Government officials to parish priests the race is on to find ways to cash in.”
How true! In many cases gambling affects every aspect of the lives of people, as the following articles will show.
[Blurb on page 4]
Once a sinful activity—now a “savior”
[Blurb on page 5]
The gambling pandemic is going global