Keno- Gambling on our future

Sunday, June 2, 2002

By Jason Crowell

A little more of Sin City came to the Show Me State this week. The Missouri Lottery this week began its newest game in about 470 bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and fraternal organizations.

Gov. Bob Holden endorsed keno in his State of the State address back in January and completely sidestepped the legislature and the democratic process entirely, similar to what he did with collective bargaining.

Holden and his pro-gambling supporters are using the temporary budget deficit and our kids' education funding as an excuse to promote another expansion of gambling. Without legislative approval, the Missouri State Lottery Commission has already issued approximately 470 licenses to bars and restaurants to run keno games on fast-paced machines. The Missouri Constitution requires games of chance to be played only on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, but these slot-type games will be located across the state in or near your neighborhoods.

Implicitly acknowledging that Quick Draw keno will addict more people, Holden has proposed a $400,000 increase in addiction treatment funds.

Missouri currently has six forms of state-authorized gaming -- excursion-boat gambling, lottery, bingo, horse racing, limited raffles and sweepstakes -- and we are continuing to proceed down a dangerous slope of betting for our future.

Voters first approved excursion-boat gambling in 1990, and the first riverboat opened in 1994. The Missouri lottery was approved by voters in 1984, and bingo was authorized in 1980. Voters adopted horse racing in 1986, and in 1998 a constitutional amendment allowed charitable organizations to sponsor raffles and sweepstakes.

However, these forms of gambling have something in common with one another: The voters of this state approved them. Keno was not even put to a vote in the legislature. Other legislators and I believe that this is outside the governor's sole discretion and question whether he has the constitutional authority to authorize gambling unilaterally.

There are many serious problems with the authorization of keno. I believe its social and economic aspects will be devastating to this state. Keno is much faster than other lottery games, because the drawings are held every five minutes, seven days a week. And players can wage up to $20 each time.

This fast-paced game will create more addicted gamblers and will allow casino gambling to infiltrate our local neighborhoods. It attracts a higher percentage of low-income individuals who spend a disproportionate share of their incomes on gambling and thereby create a regressive form of taxation.

Gambling does not come without a serious price, and it is a gross deception to call it a painless source of revenue. It produces addictions, unpaid bills, bankruptcies, embezzlement, broken marriages, hungry children and self-destruction. The social costs of gambling results in $1 revenue to the state and $2 to $3 dollars from your pocket in higher insurance costs, theft, embezzlement, policing and judicial and incarceration costs.

While the promises of what legalized gambling will do for a community or state are almost always exaggerated, it is also true that many communities who are desperate for revenue feel that they have no other alternatives and must resort to gambling.

Our state is hooked on the money generated by gambling. In the long term, the ramifications of this governmental addiction will be just as dire for the state as for the individual who becomes addicted to gambling. The social costs of breaking down families and the economic toll are not worth the small amount of revenue that it will generate.

When government legalizes more gambling, taxpayers lose -- whether they gamble or not.

Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau is the state representative from the 158th District.

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