Simple Politics or Social Poison
BY B. J. ELLIS
What's all the fuss about video poker? Here in South Carolina, we should be allowed to do whatever we want with our money and our spare time. That's the American way. But we must consider the consequences of too much freedom.
When I moved to South Carolina in 1980, I was shocked at how the state was rapidly becoming the nation's dumping ground for nuclear waste. I remember the nuclear waste dumpers' promises of funding scholarships with some of its revenues.
Now the video poker gambling industry is spreading like a deadly virus throughout the state. Poker supporters are making similar promises that gambling revenue could be used to improve education.
Even though we use the term "gambling industry," in reality, there's no board of directors or CEO. It's really a small bunch of greedy millionaires, scooping up $2.5 billion annually from the game's losers.
Video poker mogul Fred Collins signed an affidavit to the state that he made $90 million last year on video poker, but he swears he didn't make any money. Come on! Collins also said that he is keeping a multimillion-dollar stash to influence political campaigns and to win the video poker referendum. That I believe.
State Sen. Robert Ford has solicited video poker operators for hefty donations to his political action committee in an effort to swing African-American voters in gambling's favor. Ford estimates that for the video poker industry to win the November referendum, at least half of the votes must come from African-American voters. What Ford is doing is not illegal, but it does have the appearance of trying to sell out his constituency to the highest bidder.
Many of our gutless legislators wouldn't vote to ban video poker, fearing the gambling bullies would target them in the next election. These are prime examples of how video poker is already corrupting our political process and polluting our culture.
A referendum set for Nov. 2 will be the first time in state history that a binding statewide referendum has been held on a single issue. Nobody's betting on the outcome. Turnout will be key.
Gambling preys mostly on the uneducated and the poor some of our most vulnerable citizens. Yet gambling proponents claim gambling will be the solution to helping them. Yes, helping them stay poor and uneducated.
Video poker is called the "crack cocaine of gambling" because it's a convenient, quick high. To some, myself included, it can be highly addictive. While I prefer the bright lights of Las Vegas and the Blackjack tables with human interaction, a video poker machine will do if I'm in a gambling mood. And there are places for me to go less than a mile from my house.
Even though I've never won a jackpot, I'm still tempted every time I pass a poker parlor or stop to pump gas where there are machines. It takes a lot of willpower for me to refrain from gambling because I know that, once I start, it is difficult to stop.
Throughout the state, disputes concerning video poker have resulted in domestic violence and even murder. Whether it's cocaine, heroin or video poker, addicts lose all rational thought and will do anything to support their habit.
Maybe some video poker players can stop before they've blown the rent money or their whole paycheck, but for many others it is a matter of diving deeper into a black hole of debt and despair. One of the most horrifying examples is the mother who left her 10-day-old infant to suffocate inside a locked car while she gambled for seven hours. Other players let their barefoot children roam convenience store parking lots while they gamble. Then there's the highway patrolman who committed armed robbery to support his habit.
Is this the "family atmosphere" that video poker operators refer to at their establishments? In that case, maybe operators should provide on-site day care.
Like any addiction, video poker is about disconnection from human beings and escaping from reality. That's not independence; it is captivity. Gambling proponents claim video poker is harmless fun.
Wrong. Video poker has nothing positive to offer this state. Yes, like all good Americans, I'm for preserving freedom. For gamblers, sometimes too much of it can be a bad thing.
B.J. Ellis is an animal welfare advocate in Columbia who urges pet owners to spay and neuter their pets. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.