Easy Money

8/28/2012

Editor’s note: Video gambling interests are pressuring city councils to allow video gambling throughout the state of Illinois. Communities which previously have “opted out” are now voting to allow video gambling. Among the communities, Quincy and Carbondale had “opted out” only to reverse course earlier this month.

The Quincy City Council is mulling over legalizing video gambling machines in Quincy. It remains to be seen what they will do, but I have the sneaking suspicion that it will pass.
 
As Glenn Frey wrote in his song, The Smuggler’s Blues: “It’s the lure of easy money, it’s got a very strong appeal. Perhaps you’d understand it better, standing in my shoes, It’s the ultimate enticement…”
 
Frey was singing about the cocaine trade.
 
Easy money is always addictive…even more than cocaine. That’s why people drop billions in casinos. I had a member of a church I served in the Quad Cities, who had overcome an addiction to alcohol. One day, he decided to check out the gambling boat. In one afternoon, he lost $9,000. His wife threatened to leave him, if he ever gambled again. He didn’t. But, he did drop dead of a heart attack about six weeks later, leaving his wife with the debt.
 
There was another boat, just across the river, in Iowa. The people of Davenport had agreed to have one, one the condition that they imposed a limit of $500 on what a single gambler could lose in one day. They could go back the next day and lose another $500, if they wished, and continue to do so, day after day. But, the Rock Island boat (where the gentleman had lost $9,000 in one afternoon) had no such limit, and soon all the big losers were dumping their cash in Illinois.
 
The voters in Davenport then went back to the polls to rescind the $500 loss limit on their boat, so they could compete for all the money flowing out of the pockets of people who were, in many cases, addicted gamblers, throwing away their life savings…and then some. They approved the lifting of the limit. So you can go bust just as fast in Davenport as Rock Island. That’s progress.
 
But in many ways, the real addicts are the people… and the governments… which profit from the business. It’s easy money! People just hand it over to you! And, as long as you don’t care whether or not they can really afford to do so, you can make a killing without ever really producing anything. So, do you think those businesses and governments will be motivated to prevent addictive gambling? Or will they…like the state of Illinois…run ads selling the notion that you can become a bazillionaire if only you pour enough of your cash into their machines?
 
Will civilization collapse if video poker for money comes to Quincy? No. But, I seriously doubt all those jobs that are promised, if we only allow it, will show up, either. I’ve been in cities that had casinos, and they had far less positive impact than promised.
 
The disasters will largely be quiet ones. Concealed by the shame of people who were enticed by easy money and sucked into disastrous debt. I’ve known people who attempted suicide in such circumstances.
 
The churches, will be lambasted as alarmist prudes for raising these issues. But, we get to see the folks you don’t see in the commercials for riverboats and Vegas.
 
The losers.
 
The irony is that those who choose to overlook the costs of gambling in a bid for the promise of easy money, are probably also quietly betting that those same churches will be there to tend to the victims.
 
I hope that’s a safe bet.
(Reprinted with permission from The Union Messenger for Aug. 1, the newsletter of Quincy Union UMC)