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A national series of events will highlight gambling's harms

June 30, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Only with organized protest and confrontation can the public slow the progress of state-sanctioned gaming that exposes disadvantaged individuals to the lure of slot machines and $30 scratch tickets, says the national director of the advocacy group Stop Predatory Gambling. To that end, the organization is encouraging individuals to hold awareness events in the states as part of an inaugural National Day of Action in September.

To be held on the weekend of Sept. 26-27, the events are an outgrowth of an annual problem gambling awareness day that has been held in Oregon's state capital due to the efforts of a woman whose brother took his own life at age 28 after battling a gambling addiction fueled by video slot machines. Stop Predatory Gambling national director Les Bernal says that so far, activities are planned in more than 20 states, and a group in Australia will participate as well.

“Some groups may do a sign visibility event,” says Bernal. “Some may do a prayer vigil.” He encourages members of the addiction treatment community to get involved. “Any treatment professional who wants to see major reform around predatory gambling in America needs to participate in our effort,” he says.

Stopping momentum

Stop Predatory Gambling was established in 2008 and evolved from an advocacy movement that started in the 1990s, Bernal says. There continue to be many troubling trends in states' vigorous pursuit and promotion of gaming opportunities, he says including more widespread interest in expanding legalized sports betting. At the same time, he says efforts by government to address the negative effects of expanding gaming have been lacking. “No one's funding treatment,” he says.

Accompanying the expansion of gaming is the inevitable aggressive marketing by states, Bernal adds. “The dominant voice of government to most citizens is the constant call to gamble,” he says.

Yet voices of dissent are beginning to emerge, he believes. In Massachusetts, citizens at least were able to overcome leaders' protests to place a casino repeal measure on last year's election ballot (it ultimately failed). Also, political voices as disparate as those of U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Marco Rubio have expressed serious misgivings about government-sanctioned gaming, Bernal says.

He believes the tide will turn in favor of gaming opponents within the next 5 to 10 years, partly because the breakneck pace at which governments are pursuing these revenue-raising opportunities simply isn't sustainable.

“The nation is immersed in a debate about inequality and unfairness,” he says. “State-run predatory gambling is exhibit A for inequality and unfairness, because it is rigged against ordinary people.”

Bernal adds that besides more treatment, the nation desperately needs more problem gambling-related research that is not sponsored by the gaming industry.

So far, more than 25 events are planned around the country for the Sept. 26-27 commemoration. Stop Predatory Gambling has established a link that individuals and groups can use to sign up to participate.