By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — If you sell alcohol in North Carolina, you can’t allow gambling; but if you offer gambling, feel free to serve alcohol. That seems to be the upshot of an advisory from the state Attorney General’s office in reference to selling drinks on the gambling floor at Harrah’s Casino.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, having voted in alcohol sales in June, had already been offering beer, wine and mixed drinks in its Harrah’s casino restaurants, lounges and room service, but was waiting for a ruling from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission before selling drinks on the gambling floor.
The ABC Commission had looked to state attorneys for help in interpreting how the sales might work in light of a state rule prohibiting alcohol sellers from allowing gambling. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, a letter from Special Deputy Attorney General John Aldridge says the rule “would not be enforceable on the Cherokee casino,” because it is based on a law dealing with illegal gambling. The situation is different at Harrah’s because gambling is legal there under a pact negotiated with Gov. Jim Hunt some 15 years ago via the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
“This is a tricky situation in that the laws on the reservation allow gambling and the laws outside it don’t allow it,” Michael Herring, ABC’s chief administrator, had said prior to the ruling. “We are trying to figure out if we even have jurisdiction.”
Herring said he said he was pleased with how the Eastern Band of Cherokees had worked with the ABC system’s permitting process, which means the state and local ABC boards will profit from alcohol sales, rather than the Cherokees demanding a direct shipment of alcohol as is often the case on other federal lands such as military bases.
Under an agreement reached by the Cherokees and the state in mid-November, proceeds from alcohol sold at the casino will benefit both Swain and Jackson counties as the Bryson City and Sylva ABC boards will service the Harrah’s account, expected to include as many as 1,500 cases a week. The members of the tribe approved alcohol sales in June by a vote of 1,847 to 1,301 with hopes that beer, wine and mixed drinks would lure in more gamblers and shore up the casino’s failing profits, from which tribal members receive annual payments. Last year they got more than $8,000 each. The first of two checks for 2009 was down a bit at $3,892.
“As is often the case, people are looking to alcohol as an economic cure-all and not considering its ill effects and costs to society,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We are not surprised by the ruling, but we are disappointed that the casino is headed down this path, especially since there is so much evidence that selling alcohol to people who are gambling is not wise.”
Study findings presented at a 2002 Research Society on Alcoholism symposium showed that “even moderate consumption of alcohol by gamblers while gambling leads to increased risk taking during video lottery terminal play particularly among probable pathological gamblers.”
“Regular gamblers who were administered a mild dose of alcohol took more risks and played longer on VLTs than those administered a non-alcoholic beverage,” said Sherry Stewart, an associate professor of psychology, psychiatry and community health and co-presenter of the research. “This finding raises serious concerns about the advisability of making VLTs available in bars, or of governments allowing casinos to provide free alcoholic beverages to patrons.”
Alcohol use has long been associated with impaired decision making. According to the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, problem drinkers are more likely to have a gambling problem than persons without a drinking problem and problem gamblers have higher rates of alcohol dependence than non-gamblers.
“Both gambling and drinking bring their own set of problems and mixing them together makes things much worse,” said the Rev. Creech. “At least alcohol served in a restaurant is often accompanied by food, which helps mitigate its effects. Having it on the casino floor is asking for more intoxicated patrons, many of whom will be walking out of the casino to get behind the wheel.”
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