Gambling invasion? No, thanks

Gov. Deval Patrick is about to publicly clarify his views on the expansion of gambling in Massachusetts. At stake is a proposal of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to construct a resort casino in the town of Middleborough.

But do not be fooled, Middleborough is just the first step of the gambling invasion that is ready to be launched. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has publicly endorsed the prospect of building a casino at the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston. The owners of the Mohegan Sun casino, threatened by the expected move to legalize casino gambling in Massachusetts, are already securing land in the western part of the state to build an extension of their Connecticut resort. And another tribe, the Aquinnah Wampanoag, recently announced that they, too, will seek a license to open their own casino in Massachusetts. Other casino projects are also reportedly in the planning stages, only waiting for the nod of approval from the Statehouse and, ultimately, the governor.

We call on Gov. Patrick to oppose the expansion of gambling in Massachusetts. It is bad enough that casino gambling and slot machines are already available in other New England states, but Gov. Patrick, “Do you want to exponentially increase gambling’s social woes by inviting them into our neighborhoods?”

Casino advertisements frequently depict casino gambling as a fleeting, joyous experience amidst a wonderland of entertainment and excitement. However, what is portrayed as an occasional weekend getaway all too often becomes an uncontrollable compulsion that can lead to broken families, bankruptcy and even suicide.

Studies show that instances of crime, prostitution and bankruptcy increase around casinos. Those living on fixed income, particularly the elderly and the poor, are easily lured by their promise of quick money and often spend money needed for essentials on gambling.

Gambling addiction is a self-destructive behavior that has dire consequences. A 2004 article in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, describes it as follows:

“Compulsive gamblers are constantly thinking about past bets, planning the next one, and finding the money to support the habit. They increase the size of their wagers and struggle to quit or cut back. Unable to tolerate losing, they immediately try to recoup. They gamble when they are disappointed or frustrated; neglect their families; lose jobs, careers, and marriages to the habit; sell personal property, borrow, beg, lie, steal, and write bad checks to finance gambling or pay their debts. Often they are repeatedly bailed out by their families. The American Insurance Institute has called gambling the main cause of white-collar crime.”

How widespread is the problem? The same article provides statistical information compiled by the National Council on Problem Gambling. It says that “about 1 percent of American adults -- nearly 3 million people -- are pathological gamblers. Another 2 percent-to 3 percent have less serious but still significant problems, and as many as 15 million are at risk, with at least two of the symptoms described by the American Psychiatric Association.” Other sources unequivocally relate proximity to casinos and incidence of the disorder.

Although the Church teaches that gambling in moderation can be a legitimate source of recreation, the social problems associated with casino gambling and slot machines should discourage any responsible politician from promoting their expansion in Massachusetts.

This Commonwealth, we are told, needs the funds generated by gambling to reduce the state budget deficit while continuing services for cities and towns. While that is a fair goal, are we ready to pave the road of fiscal recovery with the lives of the poor, the elderly and children who will undoubtedly suffer if the decision is made to expand gambling in Massachusetts?

The only responsible answer is no.