By Dr. Mark H. Creech
I think it was Charles Mackay who once said, “Money… has often been a cause of the delusion of the multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper.”
I’m troubled by the way many in our great state are dropping their guard to the lure of gambling. Only a short time after lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly approved legislation significantly expanding Las Vegas style gaming on the Cherokee reservation, now there is an effort by the Governor, with the bi-partisan support of lawmakers, to legitimize and tax video sweepstakes parlors across the state. This is an about-face to former efforts by legislators to outlaw video poker and sweepstakes gaming.
But then again, that’s the point, they say. We’ve tried to ban this kind of gaming and failed. We might as well surrender and tax these gambling outlets to capitalize on the revenue. Yes, the North Carolina Supreme Court could rule in the near future that the previous ban on video sweepstakes enacted by the General Assembly is constitutional, but why wait, they argue. We need the money. We can pre-empt the court’s decision, make internet cafes legal, and then tax and regulate them.
It is wishful thinking at best, a delusion, to think for a moment that this state can regulate video sweepstakes. North Carolina’s venture into video poker revealed to us when it was legal the stripe of this insidious beast. Despite laws limiting pay-outs and the number of machines per location, operators of these electronic forms of gambling simply either ignored or circumvented the law. Enforcement was essentially impossible. Thus, with every Sheriff in the state imploring lawmakers to ban the machines, the General Assembly did so in 2006.
Are we really now to believe that video sweepstakes – the industry that replaced video poker – an industry that has craftily circumvented all efforts thus far by lawmaking to ban it; is something that we can regulate to our profit? If the answer to that question is yes, then I fear that we are only being suckered as much as the people who play their games.
Second, it is nothing less than delusional to think that the video sweepstakes industry is anything but predatory in nature.
Scott Plakon, a member of the Florida House of Representatives called sweepstakes cafes a predatory form of “convenience gambling” that hurts those who can least afford it. James Meachem, managing director of SweepsCoach, a Sacramento, California company that helps start sweepstakes cafes admits that the businesses cater primarily to two demographics: the old and the poor.
Where is the nobility of funding education, health, safety, or any other government programs on the backs of those who can least afford it? A decent government doesn’t finance its activities by playing its most vulnerable citizens for fools, thus rendering them as expendable, exploitable, and unworthy of their God-given right to the protection of their government.
Video Sweepstakes games are highly addictive, already negatively affecting many North Carolinians. According to Gary Gray, executive director of North Carolina’s Council on Problem Gambling, nearly 9 in 10 calls to the council’s helpline are related to sweepstakes machines. “For the most part, these sweepstakes places, they’re kind of like crack cocaine”, he told the Star Telegram last year. “It’s just horrible,” he added.
In Florida, which is facing a similar influx from the video gambling industry, Pat Fowler, head of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, said video sweepstakes cafes – popping up in strip malls all over – are harder for compulsive gamblers to avoid in their everyday life than resort casinos.”
Just think of it, if this proposal passes the General Assembly, North Carolina will have succumbed to becoming a gambling haven, with Las Vegas style casino gambling in the west, and a state-operated lottery coupled with sweepstakes gambling in untold outlets everywhere.
It is nothing less than a delusion to think this will not exacerbate the problems of compulsive gambling with all of its negative social consequences for our beloved state.
This is North Carolina. Surely we can do much better than this. Some seem to indicate that the choice is between tying our future to gambling or accepting the effects of the current economic decline. But I suggest the proposal to legitimize sweepstakes gaming in itself is a form of economic decline. The alternative is for us to find the courage to chart a true path to prosperity for this state – a state with broader and more sustainable economic growth – something that also supports our government’s charge to be faithful to its motto – Esse Quam Videri – To Be and not to Seem – something that restores the optimism that defines our strength – that gives us real hope rather than a delusion of hope.
Someone once said, “Money must be the root of all evil. Look how it’s going into the ground.” When it comes to gambling, that’s certainly true. Gambling is the surest way, in the long-run, for this state to get nothing for something.
North Carolina needs to wait until the N.C. Supreme Court can act on the previous ban. If the high court rules against the law, then lawmakers need to go back and craft another piece of legislation that can muster a court challenge. Other states have succeeded in banning this form of gaming. North Carolina must persevere to the same end. To do anything else would be delusional for the “turn of a piece of paper.”