The trouble with the new buffalo

Earlier this week, the Strib published a list of the ten organizations that spent the most money lobbying the legislature between June 2004 and May 2005. Given Governor Pawlenty's hard push for casino expansion, it was no shock to learn that four of those ten organizations represented gaming interests, which were either seeking to protect their monopoly or get a cut of the action. Collectively, the gang of four shelled out $1.3 million "educating" lawmakers on the subject. That constitutes roughly 10 percent of all lobbying monies spent on the session.

This exertion of time, cash and energy is galling when you consider that the "debate" over the benefits and costs of casinos remains a debate only in the sense that global warming remains a debate. In other words, there is no real debate. Plainly put, gambling extracts social costs that outweigh its benefits; the more prevelant the gambling, the more prevelant the associated problems.

The best defense of the casino business, of course, is that it has improved the economic conditions on many impoverished Indian reservations. While those benefits have been wildly uneven in distribution, they are nonetheless real. Even on Minnesota's poorest reservations, poverty has declined because of the gaming boom.

Largely unacknowledged--especially in Indian country--is the fact that casinos are also causing a lot problems for the very populations they are intended to benefit. That's the conclusion of Tim Giago, probably the best known Native American journalist in the country. In his syndicated column, Giago laments the rising tide of gambling-related woes on reservations and the scant attention paid to the problem:

This addiction to gambling has not caused the big splash in Indian country yet, but that splash is coming. If you doubt me just visit any Indian casino on any Indian reservation in this country and you will see many tribal members ensconced at the gaming tables and slot machines in their own casinos...If I paint a bleak picture of this new wealth in Indian country I am only reporting on what I see out there. Easy money can also bring a myriad of easy problems and the addictions to gambling are becoming as pronounced as those once held by alcoholism and drugs.

Read the rest here.

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