Gambling With Our Future 2
Family North Carolina MagazineSpring 2010
By Bill Brooks
I have been puzzled by some recent arguments why the General Assembly should not try and ban video gambling, specifically “Internet cafes.” The logic for not banning seems to hinge on assertions like “the state is already promoting gambling through the lottery” or people are already gambling their money on Web sites, card games, at pool halls, sporting events, the Cherokee casino, and in Internet-sweepstakes cafes. While these statements may be true, they do not grasp the reality of what expanded legal gambling would mean for our state.
I’ll be the first to admit that some people gamble, and some gamble to excess. After working on various gambling issues for more than 20 years, I do not think the state can successfully prevent all gambling, but it should ban all gambling. The same rationale applies to having laws against drunk driving, illegal drugs and prostitution. The cost in human suffering, the harmful impact on families and the destructive nature of certain activities warrants this action and the outright ban of most forms of gambling.
The societal harms that have come with the state lottery will be even greater if video gambling is allowed. Sweepstakes cafes, convenience stores, and other outlets would make this much more dangerous form of gambling easily accessible. The addictive nature of video gambling is evidenced by a Raleigh location with over 70 computer terminals where some people sit for hours, often with over 20 people waiting to enter in the evenings.
Enforcement is another issue, and those charged with this responsibility need to have a law that is clearly defined and enforceable. As a result of several court rulings concerning attempts by the legislature in 2006 and 2008 to ban video gambling, we now have a law that some sheriffs are still trying to enforce while some are not. The right thing to do is for the General Assembly to fix the law and overcome the objections of the judges who found the previously passed law defective. If you bought a new car, drove it home and a door fell off, you wouldn’t just say “that’s too bad” and keep driving it. No, you would take it back to the dealer and rightly demand the door be fixed. That’s exactly what needs to happen with our current video gambling law. The door has fallen off and needs to be put back on properly.
Because the door is off, video gambling companies are rushing to North Carolina. They are establishing small casinos (one to 100 machines) in mostly rented venues across the state. It is something akin to the Wild West out there in terms of the ability of local government officials to respond to the many complaints of nuisance and the compounding problems of gambling for law enforcement officials. “Sweepstakes” or “Internet cafes” are terms designed to disguise the fact that casino style gambling is what is really taking place. To suggest that the General Assembly allow a predatory style of gambling to remain in communities across our state is a bad idea.
Citizens do not want gambling in their neighborhoods, because of the harms it brings to individuals and families, and because it has negative secondary effects for the community like noise, decreased property values, and increased crime. Laws designed to regulate the location of “adult establishments” did not contemplate the regulation of gambling operations, because gambling (video poker, et.al.) is not permitted under existing law (except for the state lottery and what is permitted on the Cherokee Reservation). Unfortunately, two businesses have been successful in obtaining court rulings that their video gambling machines did not violate state law.
For many years, our laws have banned even the possession of roulette wheels, craps tables, faro banks (the “shoes” from which cards are dealt for blackjack), slot machines (many of the “one-armed bandits” have been replaced by an electronic button), and other gambling devices, including video poker machines. It is the electronic machines that have blurred the definitions and the lines between the legal descriptions in the law and the devices that the video gambling industry brings forth to circumvent that law.
The end result has been video gambling establishments spreading to more and more neighborhoods. This pervasive expansion of gambling is not good for the safety, health and welfare of our citizens. The General Assembly in North Carolina has stood on solid ground when it has made most forms of gambling illegal for over 200 years. Our state is the better for it, and our families certainly are.
Bill Brooks is president and executive director of the North Carolina Family Policy Council.
Copyright © 2010. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.