Addicts are Lifeblood
By Guy C. Clark
N.M. Coalition Against Gambling
study, "New Mexico Survey of Gambling Behavior 1996," produced by the New
Mexico Department of Health and the University of New Mexico Center for Alcoholism,
Substance Abuse and Addictions, has presented a disturbing picture of a major public
health crisis in New Mexico. This report tells us that about 137,000 people in New Mexico
are having minor to moderate gambling problems, and about 40,000 people are having serious
gambling problems. Compulsive gambling is a disease recognized by the American Psychiatric
Association, having a distinct list of criteria that distinguish it as a disease. If some
new bacterium or virus appeared that seriously afflicted 40,000 citizens in our state, the
whole force of the state would be brought to bear to investigate it, and everything
possible would be done to stop it.
When asked about the results of the survey, Gov. Gary Johnson, revealing his ignorance
about public health and addiction, as well as his indifference to the substantial
suffering he has helped to promote in New Mexico, suggested that gambling addicts probably
substitute their gambling addiction for alcoholism and were probably better off for it.
Many scientific studies around the country find a direct connection with gambling
addiction and alcohol and drug abuse-gambling addiction increases drug dependence.
Professor Henry Lesieur from the University of Illinois indicates that pathological
gamblers have alcohol and substance abuse rates of nearly 50 percent. If the governor had
read his own health department's study, he would have found that on page 17 it reports a
synergistic relationship between compulsive gambling and alcoholism.
Gov. Johnson also seemed to be saying that addicts are sort of interchangeable-a
zero-net-gain sort of equilibrium. Many of the gambling industry's apologists suggest that
there are a fixed number of gambling addicts in society, and that they just rotate from
one venue to another. Lottery on Monday and the tracks on Tuesday. Scientific research
paints a very different picture. Relying on national field research, Professor John Kindt,
also from the University of Illinois, states, "Current data shows that when gambling
activities are legalized, economies will be plagued with 100 percent to S50 percent
increases in the numbers of addicted gamblers." Dr. Rachel Volberg, director of
Gemini Research, probably the most respected gambling addiction research organization in
the United States, found that the rate of problem and pathological gambling rose from 1.7
percent to 5.4 percent of the adult population in Iowa in an eight year period of time,
during which river-boat casinos were legalized and operating in Iowa.
Gov. Johnson, responding to the Albuquerque Journal, sarcastically said, "Every
time I drive to Albuquerque and drive by San Felipe I think about all the people that are
just chained in there to the casino." He parrots the regulation gambling industry
line that "Casinos Are About Entertainment." Most forms of gambling get
substantial amounts of their revenue from the addicts, but casinos are absolutely
propelled by addicts. Professor Earl Grinols, an economist from the University of Illinois
testifying before Congress on Sept. 29,1995, stated "These two groups (problem and
pathological gamblers) typically constitute about 4 percent of the population, but provide
slightly more than half of casino revenues." Of course that means that addicts are
the lifeblood of casinos. Without question, there are also quite a few people in the
casinos gambling for entertainment, but they are partially there as window-dressing, a
sort of white-wash over the corruption that lies below the glitzy facade.
On page 12 of "New Mexico Survey of Gambling Behavior 1996" there is a chart
that lists gambling status by demographic subgroup that tells a story of devastation and
misery: 7.6 percent of Hispanics have serious gambling problems; 12.7 percent of young
people aged 18-20 have serious gambling problems; 8.3 percent of those with incomes below
$10,000 per year; and 11 percent of those with less than high school diplomas have serious
gambling problems. Large numbers of our citizens are having their lives ruined by casino
gambling, and our governor belittles them and treats them with contempt. We wonder how
many more public officials and casino sympathizers will ridicule the New Mexicans that
have been devastated by the casinos.
The casinos remind one of a huge factory, located in the center of a city that spews
out toxic waste. People are and will be getting injured or killed by the effluent. The
factory is disrupting other business, and damaging the culture of the city, but it is
making huge profits and buying support from some officials. Some public figures discount
the injury the toxins cause. Other public officials decide that the best effort would be
to provide Band-Aids to the injured. The most obvious solution is to close down the
factory or get it to stop production. Let's close down casino gambling in New Mexico and
stop the devastation that it causes.
Who can tell what the courts will do? Regardless of the courts, the Legislature has the
absolute responsibility to vote against any bill that would legalize the casinos and
perpetuate and expand the damage to our state and its people.
Albuquerque Journal, op. ed. page
Wednesday, February 12, 1997