Gambling: Group says gambling may be legal, but not mandatory | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Gambling: Group says gambling may be legal, but not mandatory

Even if you can't beat 'em, you still shouldn't join 'em.

So says Bruce Barron, president of No Dice. The anti-gambling group has launched a new effort, "Winners Avoid Casinos," in the face of the apparent likelihood of a casino arriving in the North Side.

Barron and other members of No Dice bring presentations to churches and civic groups educating people about what he calls the "ravenous industry" of gambling, and the disastrous results he says the casino will have on Pittsburgh.

"If you want to have a positive impact on the community, don't even start," he says. "Even if you are certain you are not a person who'll have a gambling problem, knowing this is a ravenous industry, is this the kind of industry you want to support?"

His presentation mixes grim statistics like the average debt of a person seeking help for compulsive gambling -- more than $40,000, according to 2004 data from the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey -- with slogans and clever photos (see photo, above).

Problem gambling already exists in Allegheny County, and according to a January 2008 study by the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work, it's going to get much worse with the arrival of a casino. And county human-service networks are poorly equipped to handle the inevitable influx of need, it warns.

The report, "Raising the Stakes," which Barron quotes from in his presentation, says that "evidence also suggests that one of the consequences of opening a casino is an increase in the proportion of the community with problem or pathological gambling disorders."

It cites a 1999 Ontario, Canada, study which found that a new casino opening increased levels of gambling by residents as well as levels of gambling-related problems. It also found that economic gains brought by the casino were more than offset by related losses.

"Human service providers have a limited window of opportunity within which they can adequately prepare for the heightened service demands that likely will come with the opening of the casino," the report concludes. "This is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss."

The state has budgeted $1.5 million annually from gambling revenues for treatment of problem gambling. That's just slightly more than what Pittsburgh's casino is projected to make, all on its own, in a single day: State gambling officials expect Majestic Star to earn some $1.3 million in daily revenue.

Barron says that with the economy in dire straits, even casinos aren't recession-proof. In fact, he hopes people stay away in droves, so that when the casino finally opens, it won't be able to support itself.

Though Majestic Star spokesman Bob Oltmanns didn't respond to requests for comment for this article, he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that economic troubles in the region were "not even an issue" for the casino.

And spokesman David La Torre of The Meadows, a Washington County race track/casino, says he's not seen any organized resistance to gaming in Southwestern Pennsylvania, because the casino has been an economic boon and a good steward of its customers' well-being: "Problem gaming is something we take very seriously," he says. "It isn't good for people and it isn't good for the industry."

Despite the best efforts of groups like No Dice, says La Torre: "The days of gaming being limited to Las Vegas and Atlantic City are over. The gaming industry is here to stay."

So is Barron tilting at windmills? His efforts so far haven't slowed down the march toward Pittsburgh as a casino town.

"I will never say anything is for sure until the first sucker goes ka-ching in the first slot," he says. "You can redefine goals: If your only goal is to block legislation, when the legislation passes, you lose. If you maintain the goal of helping families avoid the horrors of gambling addiction, every time you help one person, you've won."

click to enlarge One of the photos from the "Winners Avoid Casinos" presentation. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NO DICE
Photo courtesy of No Dice
One of the photos from the "Winners Avoid Casinos" presentation.

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