Sticking It To Compulsive Gamblers

Red Flags Daily, February 23, 2002 — In 1999, when off-duty police Sgt.

Solomon Bell tried one last hand of high-stakes blackjack, he lost. What happened next at the brand new Motor City Casino in Detroit was horrifying — he pulled out his service revolver and blew his brains out.

News archive photo of Sergeant Solomon Bell

The most common cause of death for compulsive gamblers is suicide. They see it as the easy way out of their problems.

It was, however, unusual that Officer Bell committed suicide in the casino. An unidentified spokesperson for a Las Vegas casino later commented that “usually people jump off a high level of the parking structure.” Can’t you just feel his warmth and concern about gambling-related suicide?

Casino gambling has grown from its beachhead in Nevada to become the largest growth industry in the U.S. in less than 25 years.

The 1999 report of the nine-member National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) notes that in 1977, every state except Nevada prohibited commercial gambling casinos. Only 13 states had lotteries. Native American casinos didn’t even exist. All told, Americans wagered about $17 billion on legal commercial gambling.

The big changes came in the late 1970s and 1980s. Atlantic City legalized casinos and state lotteries became commonplace. In the early 1990s, legal gambling casinos spread across the country. So did video poker machines at racetracks and bars.

So you shouldn’t be surprised to know that Americans wagered about $60 billion on legal gambling last year. That’s right, $60 billion.

What goes unsaid in these numbers is that casinos can’t exist without compulsive gamblers. Before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Professor Earl Grinols of the University of Illinois presented evidence that the casinos depend on compulsive gamblers for much of their profits. These gamblers represent only 4 percent of adults, but they may account for as much as 52 percent of a casino’s revenues.

Similarly, the NGISC’s study estimates that 51 percent of all state lottery revenues come from just 5 percent of lottery players.

The NGISC report concludes that about five million problem gamblers live in the U.S. Add to this an additional fifteen million who are at risk of developing a gambling problem.

Some of the most valuable casino real estate in the world is now located in Detroit, Michigan. Not exactly mainstream vacation territory, but the first casinos to locate in a major blue-collar community.

How has casino gambling rolled out across the country with so little opposition? How does it happen?

A script for a politician advocating the introduction of gambling would be written like this: “Each year here in our community there are people who spend money on recreational forms of gambling. Millions of dollars are leaving each year for Las Vegas as gamblers hop planes to enjoy legalized gambling.”

Next comes a short pause for breath as the speaker repeats for emphasis: “Millions of dollars fly out of (insert name of major metropolitan airport) every year for Las Vegas.”

Pause again: “Money which could be going to create jobs and benefit our community right here at home!”

Then, almost as an afterthought: “What can we do about it?”
The obvious punch line is: We need casino gambling in (insert name of municipality or state)

This script is acted out again and again as gambling spreads — supposedly for the good of the community.

So who cares that problem gambling can be devastating to an individual and his family? One recent report from the National Opinion Research Center concludes that out-of-control gamblers suffer financially, emotionally and physically — and so do their families. Divorce, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect often are the immediate consequences of problem gambling. And the children of gamblers are more likely to use drugs and get into trouble.

Next time you see that casino in the distance or the off-track betting parlor, think of Sgt. Solomon Bell and the blood gushing from the gunshot wounds to his brain.