Below is a copy of the letter I recently sent to our city council to express my own opinion regarding video gambling in our town. I share this here not as any kind of crusade or campaign but simply to help inform any one else who lives in our town and might take the time to read it. I pray that the Christian community within Clinton will engage our council members on this issue with the utmost humility and grace.
Members of the
Thank you for your tireless work and dedication as council members. I am grateful for all of the time and energy that each of you have given and continue to give on behalf of the city of
Clinton. I know that being a leader often means making
difficult decisions on complex issues and I am thankful for a council that
takes the necessary time to weigh the many sides of these issues in order to
make an informed decision.
As I understand it, you have one such difficult and complex issue before you now in the form of the new state-approved video gambling machines and whether or not to lift the existing city ban on gambling. I have been informed that a number of businesses and fraternal organizations in
currently depend on the substantial revenue they receive from the "gray
machines" that are soon to be removed.
I also understand that it is out of concern for the continued success of
these businesses and organizations that the city council would consider lifting
the current city ban in order to allow these new video gambling machines in Clinton. As a resident of Clinton and as someone who is actively
involved in promoting the well-being of our community, I share this concern for
the continued viability of our businesses and other community organizations.
Like you, I also want to see our businesses prosper and our neighborhoods
thrive. However, I do not believe that
the presence of video gambling in our town serves that common effort. In fact, there are a number of reasons why I
think lifting our current ban in order to allow these new video gambling
machines actually works against our common goals.
First, gambling in any form almost always end up working as a regressive tax, drawing revenue from those individuals and families who can least afford it. Using state lotteries as one example, we find that "players with household incomes under $10,000 bet nearly three times as much on lotteries as those with incomes over $50,000." The possibility of that "big win" will always be more of a draw to those who spend each day struggling to pay their bills than it will be to those who already live in relative comfort. Likewise, I have found in my own work with low-income families that the needs of today often seem so pressing that it is difficult to give any thought to the needs of next month or next year. All forms of gambling prey on this short-term focus in that they unreasonably appeal to the possibility of immediate pay out while minimizing the long-term costs, thereby encouraging the very mode of thinking which often sustains the cycle of poverty. Of course, one can argue that every individual, regardless of economic standing, has the same freedom to abstain from gambling but to make such an argument is to fail to understand how economic circumstances leave some individuals and families more vulnerable to the costs of gambling than others. Gambling in general is a practice which is more likely to increase the problems of poverty than it is to drive us toward prosperity.
Second, video gambling machines in particular have been shown to be one of the most potentially destructive forms of gambling available while also offering the least amount of benefit to the communities which employ them. "Most working in the field [of gambling research] agree that a strong relationship exists between problem gambling and EGM's [Electronic Gambling Machines]." Distinctive characteristics of these machines such as the speed of play, easy accessibility, and the appearances of near misses all encourage one to forget about the money already lost and focus on that small chance of "winning it all," thereby increasing the probability that a casual gambler will become a problem gambler. Furthermore, studies have found that the presence of these machines usually do not provide significant benefit to the community at large. Although they may provide some revenue to the businesses that operate them, they are less likely to provide the kind of secondary benefits that other forms of gambling claim to provide (i.e. the large number of jobs provided by casinos or funding for educational or social programs provided by state lotteries).
In addition to the mere economics of the matter, there are also the social and personal costs to our community to consider. How does one measure the cost of a family broken by the gambling losses of one of its members? To be sure, we could calculate the financial costs of lost productivity and work-hours resulting from a gambling addiction, the money spent on counseling for a recovering gambling addict, and the funding for the social programs needed to keep such a family out of a dire situation and those calculations alone would probably be enough to convince us that the presence of video gambling in our community is not to our economic benefit. But how will we measure the cost of a mother who knows she has failed her family? How can we quantify the cost of a child who watched his father throw away his chance for an opportunity in this life just so he could keep playing a video game?
Of course, this is not really a choice between the social needs of our community and the economics ones. It is not a matter of weighing the needs of our businesses and fraternal organizations against the needs of individuals and families. Obviously, as a community all of those needs, all of us as individuals and families are bound up together, connected to one another. What is good for the families and individuals of
Clinton will be good for the
businesses and organizations of Clinton
as well. The long term economic benefits
of the absence of gambling in our town will far outweigh the immediate revenue
produced by any form of video gambling.
The absence of video gambling in our city will be one less opportunity
for individuals to engage in unwise financial practices. This is turn means an
opportunity for more sound financial standing for our families and an increase
in economic prosperity for our town which is, of course, to the benefit of
everyone in Clinton,
especially its businesses.
I thank you so much for taking the time to read this letter and continuing to weigh the arguments concerning this important issue. Regardless of the outcome concerning this issue, I thank you for your faithful service as members of our city council.
Rev. David Young
 Final Report of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, 14.
 "Electronic Gambling Machines and Problem Gambling". (Responsible Gambling Council, 2006), 6.