Virtual Voices
A riverboat casino backs into the Ohio River after leaving its mooring in Lawrenceburg, Ind.
Associated Press/Photo by Al Behrman
A riverboat casino backs into the Ohio River after leaving its mooring in Lawrenceburg, Ind.

Addicted state governments

Gambling

Indiana’s addiction to gambling has taken a new twist.

Hoosiers are told they need land-based casinos on the state’s borders and table games at horse racing tracks to keep gamblers coming back for more.

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The fear is that the state could lose gamblers to neighboring states.

Indiana plunged into legal gambling between 1989 and 1995, adopting a state lottery, horse racing and pari-mutuel betting, and riverboat casinos on Lake Michigan and the Ohio River. Now the state ranks third behind Nevada and New Jersey in state revenues from gambling taxes.

The industry’s plea for yet another expansion of gambling illustrates the addictive nature of this business for governments as well as individuals.

Originally, the state lottery was sold in Indiana as a necessity to keep ticket sales from going to Ohio and Illinois. Horse racing with pari-mutuel betting was required, too, but it couldn’t make it as a business and needed subsidies from the riverboat casinos.

In time, horse racing needed even more help, so the tracks were converted to something similar to land-based casinos. Despite all of that help, the tracks are still having a hard time. One is going bankrupt and will be sold to the other. They want table games to boost business.

Baylor University economics professor Earl Grinols has estimated the costs associated with gambling addictions at $32.4 billion to $53.8 billion a year across the nation. Those costs eat into the tax revenues raised by various forms of legalized gambling. Addicted gamblers leave children in cars in hot weather, or steal from their own families to feed the habit. The neglect of children got pretty bad in the Philadelphia area a couple of years ago. Public officials called for a new law to make a felony out of leaving a child in a car while gambling.

Individuals who can’t stop gambling on their own often get help from Gamblers Anonymous, which is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. One of the 12 steps is to “make a fearless moral and financial inventory of ourselves.”

When state governments are addicted, there’s no 12-step program to adopt. But a moral and financial inventory suggests that Indiana doesn’t need more gambling opportunities.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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