Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gambling on Kentucky's Future

The Legislators of our great Commonwealth are about to lay a heavy burden on the shoulders of the voters throughout Kentucky.  They are asking us to make a decision that could well lead to the expansion of gambling without the information explaining the actual costs and impact on our communities.  In recent years, the United States Government has received at least 36 separate reports on the impact of gambling in urban and rural casinos as well as racetrack casinos.  In every one of those studies, implementing specific procedures and guidelines were essential in moderating the negative effects of gambling.  The indictment in each study accepts that there is indeed a negative economic impact and community consequences to gambling that must be factored into the procedures for implementation.  To name only a few, the studies reported a near doubling of filings for bankruptcy, chronic addiction to gambling and domestic violence. Divorce rates in areas with legalized gambling increased by a third and ironically, areas with legalized gambling also saw a significant increase in illegal gambling.  The effects are more significant with destination casinos in rural communities.

The reports also cited that only when state legislators clearly outline a financial agreement with casino owners on how much money will remain in state, used for infrastructure projects such as roads and schools, employment requirements for quotas of in state versus out of state workers, benefit packages for employees, increased investment in law enforcement services and investment in social service agencies that will be forced to handle the added strain of addiction counseling, domestic violence and homelessness, are the effects moderated.  Unfortunately any such details as pertaining to the issue of expanded gambling in Kentucky are, at present, not readily available, making our job as voters all the more difficult.

In all fairness, some of the studies did report initial increased cash flow to state and local governments.  Unfortunately, the long term benefits of the increased revenue were almost universally unrealized as money was soon redirected to social service agencies and law enforcement.

I don’t understand how we can be expected to make an informed decision without the full details of how the expansion of gambling will be realized.  Even if we did have the details, does it make sense to clear the way for an industry that has, in every single case, negatively impacted the social fabric of the communities in which they did business?  Unfortunately, even in those communities where money was made available to help victims of domestic violence, it was little consolation to the wife and children that were presently homeless and victims of a broken family. This situation is not the creative summary from yet another religious leader and opponent of the expansion of gambling, it is the known and observed result of every independent study on the issue. If we must vote, let us vote. However, urge your legislators to provide specifics before we open Pandora’s Box. Frankly, the impact of this issue on my son’s future, the future of this community and our Commonwealth is not “a gamble” I am willing to take.

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