In today’s CNN article “Bill would ban military slot machines,” Drew Griffin relates the story of Army Warrant Officer Aaron Walsh who “became addicted to gambling on military slot machines,” eventually resigned from the Army, and was homeless in Las Vegas for a period of time before committing suicide in 2006.

Since moving to Oklahoma over a year ago, I have been amazed and shocked by how many casinos are proliferating around our state. There are multiple sides to the legalization of gambling and casinos in Oklahoma and other places, and I am not discounting the positive impact gambling dollars have reportedly had within some Native American tribes and communities. I continue to wonder, however, why we do not have more voices opposing the spread of legalized gambling around our state. In August, I read in the magazine “Oklahoma Casinos and Entertainment” (a free publication given out at many restaurants) that we had at that time 92 casinos in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Casinos and Entertainment

The website 500 Nations has a clickable map apparently listing them all. I found the “warning” at the bottom of each individual casino webpage on the site interesting:

Warning: You must ensure you meet all age and other regulatory requirements before entering a Casino or placing a wager. There are hundreds of jurisdictions in the world with Internet access and hundreds of different games and gambling opportunities available on the Internet. It is your reponsibility to determine if it is legal for you to play any particular games or place any particular wager. Online gambling is unlawful in some countries and jurisdictions. Check your local laws and regulations prior to gambling. Skill gaming is restricted in Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Vermont, Connecticut, Florida, Montana and Illinois.

Somehow, I don’t think a warning like that is really going to make an impact on anyone’s choices relating to gambling and casinos. I also find the term and concept of “skill gaming” to be fairly ridiculous. I can’t find a a WikiPedia entry for the term, but I think it includes basically all Class III games defined by the US 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Would a reasonable person consider pulling the handle of a slot machine to constitute participation in a “game of skill?” I don’t think so.

To date, I have only been in one Oklahoma casino, the Cherokee Casino located in Tulsa just off I-44:

Cherokee Casino in Tulsa

I ate dinner there in late September, and their buffet WAS impressive. My overall impression of the casino, however, was pretty negative. Although there were some designated “non-smoking” rooms, most of the people there seemed to be retirees who were smoking as many cigarettes as they could while they poured their money down fancy toilet bowls with flashing lights and engaging sound effects. A pretty sad scene overall.

Of course I have many irons in the fire at this point, so making a documentary film is not high on my priority list, but at some point I would love to make a documentary film on the casino industry in Oklahoma. Again, I recognize there are multiple sides to this story– And there ARE some benefits from casinos in terms of needed income which many tribes have likely never had, in this quantity, since their lands were stolen, large percentages of their populations were killed, and they were forced to move to Indian Territory prior to 1907. Those benefits aside, however, I think there are MANY reasons why we should be concerned as citizens of Oklahoma about the proliferation of casinos and gambling in our state. Gambling IS addictive for some people. I know people back in Lubbock with some SERIOUS gambling addictions, and in at least one case gambling has financially destroyed the finances of one family I know. If there are organizations inside or outside Oklahoma counting these costs as the numbers of casinos in our state approaches one hundred, I’d like to know who they are and how they are striving to get their message “out” to our legislators and general body politic.

Another aspect to legalized gambling that I’d like to create a documentary film about regards our state lottery. Of course, like many other states, our lottery was passed by voters and legislators because it would be “good for our kids” and ostensibly bring more dollars into our state coffers for public education. Sadly, that justification seems at this point to have been a misleading lie. Money brought into the state revenue stream by the lottery is, BY LAW, supposed to SUPPLEMENT rather than SUPPLANT funds already in place supporting education. Yet currently, based on what I know, it sounds like the number of real dollars being spent by our legislature on education have DECREASED despite a phenomenally successful state lottery program, as well as a multitude of legalized Indian casinos which DO contribute a portion of their earnings as state taxes.

So what’s up with this situation?

In my view, we have too few voices pointing out the downsides of gambling, and NO ONE that I’ve read or seen in the mainstream media addressing this issue of state lottery and casino dollars ILLEGALLY SUPPLANTING rather than SUPPLEMENTING state expenditures for education.

I’m glad Tennessee US representative Lincoln Davis is sponsoring legislation to “eliminate military slot machines overseas.” Let’s hope it doesn’t take a suicide in Oklahoma, by someone in the military or outside the military, to get the attention of our state lawmakers and our citizen advocacy groups to take a look at what IS and IS NOT happening as a result of legalized gambling in Oklahoma. Problem gambling is a fact and is well documented, I’m sure it’s on the rise in Oklahoma. Funds for public education clearly are NOT, and based on the quantity of gambling dollars flowing into state coffers, they should be exploding. We need the light of public scrutiny to clear up what seems to be a VERY blurry situation at best.

blurry casino

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On this day..

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  • http://myfla.ws Arthus Erea

    The decision to gamble should be made by individual citizens—not made for them by the government. Yes, maybe it is addiction. Yes, it can detremental to your financial health.

    However, TV and the internet can become addicting as well as detrimental to your health. If the government is allowed to infringe upon personal choice to take part in addictive activities, then our rights will slowly be infringed upon. It is not and should not be the government’s responsibility to make personal decisions for citizens.

  • http://room114.wikispaces.com Jim Cottrell

    I think the if military slot machines are eliminated, the military is making a meaningful statement about gambling. Without making this statement the military would be condoning or promoting gambling. The military deserves a voice like anyone else and can “speak” in the way it chooses. If the government wants to wakeup and make the same statement even better.

    I agree there are many things like addiction and “being wise in ones own eyes” from which everyone needs to be saved. I think that the only solution that will work is at a spiritual and cultural level, not at the governmental level. I do think it is important for everyone to make statements through their actions to help others avoid pitfalls, especially the government.

    I also see gambling as a special tax on the mathematically impaired.

  • http://blog.larkin.net.au/index.php John Larkin

    Hi Wes,

    I agree with your views. Here in NSW, Australia we have ten percent of the world’s poker or slot machines (2003). Ten percent. We have a population of 6,800,000 people in this state (approx). Twelve percent of the state’s revenues are drawn from gambling (2003).

    Gambling in this state leads to such problems as huge personal debts, embezzlement, broken families, unemployment, crime and related social ills. My wife regularly counseled overseas students who had run into debt due to gambling in casinos and other venues where slot or poker machines could be found.

    Our state government recently announced it would cap the number of machines however the figure is artificial as the numbers of machines are already down to that cap level.

    Regards

    John

  • http://www.oklahomaroadtrips.com Thomas

    I can agree with the above commenter’s idea that it isn’t the ‘government’s responsibility to make personal decisions for citizens’. However, it is not the government’s role to sell snake oil to the people and call it opportunity.

    Smokes, folks and dope get sold all over, but Americans should be able to expect better endeavors from their elected leaders.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Arthus: Your point, and this post specifically, does raise the issue about the proper role of government regulation. It sounds like you have a libertarian viewpoint. As you note “If the government is allowed to infringe upon personal choice to take part in addictive activities,” I think it is important to realize the myriad of ways the US government currently regulates a multitude of activities not only because those things are addictive in some cases, but also for the general promotion of the public good. I agree regulating behavior could go down a slippery slope in theory, and we certainly seem to see this today when it comes to things like a right to privacy and the “war on terror,” but when it comes to things like regulating gambling let’s remember our government is already regulating TONS of things. From making certain types of drug use illegal to enforcing limits on driving speeds on our highways, the government imposes multiple limits to protect people from themselves as well as each other. Libertarian philosophy may sound great, but realistically we have to have some limits and boundaries imposed by a governing authority. This is a basic political discussion about the social contract which citizens agree to abide by under their government. The good news is that because we live in a republic, we can exert some level of influence in determining the specifics of that contract. I agree with the principle that governmental regulation of the behavior of citizens should be limited, but I disagree with what appears to be your libertarian political premise, which is that all government regulation is evil and not needed. Regulation certainly can go too far, and we could discuss at length those cases, but in the general sense I believe some regulation of behavior by the government is both needed and good.

    The specific issue here is gambling. Obviously a libertarian viewpoint on gambling or any other type of potentially destructive behavior is to let people basically do whatever they want. I think that view point is essentially prevailing today in Oklahoma where gambling seems to be almost “set loose” in terms of people being able to do just about anything they want. When I previously lived in Lubbock, Texas, I remember there was a bit of controversy over some type of slot machines that were used in certain stores, but had a different name. (I forget what it was.) The fact is, some people love to gamble. I know several people who fit into this category. I am not morally opposed to gambling, I think it is possible for some people to gamble in moderation, but there are a host of other issues here besides whether people can gamble without ruining their finances or getting addicted. Historically, I think civic leaders have had justifiable concerns over the impact gambling establishments have on a community more broadly. I think this has been true of lotteries as well. I need to look at the research, but my perception is that the majority of people who buy lottery tickets today are statistically poor. These folks really would be better off saving their money than spending it on the lottery. Yet again, as I mentioned previously, I think a libertarian ethic does rule the day and most people are happy to say, “If people want to waste their money on the lottery, then let them. That’s their choice.” There ARE costs associated with gambling, and one of my points is that I don’t think we hear enough voices talking about those costs today.

    To Thomas’ point, I agree that the government shouldn’t mislead the people. Yet that is exactly what I think elected leaders did here in Oklahoma when they passed the lottery. Has the lottery been good for public education? We have plenty of billboards up around the state extolling the millions of dollars that have been given to public education because of the lottery… What these billboards do NOT address is the SUPPLANT versus SUPPLEMENT issue I explained in my post. Real dollars now spent for public education are LESS than they were pre-lottery, from what I understand. How can this happen? I think people are asleep, and are sitting back saying things like, “If people choose to gamble, then that is their business.” It is their business, but if government leaders have permitted legalized gambling on the premise that it is going to lead to more funding for education, and the fact is that HAS NOT and IS NOT happening, then some snake oil has been sold.

    I’m tired of buying it, and I think more citizens should be too. I wish people would wake up to this reality, and we’d see some coverage of these perspectives in the mainstream media.

  • EA Kivineva

    If the bases are located in places that have slot machines, esp. foreign countries, then eliminating the bases own machines is a waste of time & a waste of a good income source. The same soldiers can gamble elesewhere and all the military will have achieved is a loss of income.
    Or did you think we could ban all the lotteries and perhaps even raffles in states where bases are located. And what about the foreign locations? Where I live in Europe there are slot machines in every grocery store.

    No, adults will just have to act like adults and governement can restrain itself to acting like government, not an overbearing mother. Treatment can be be improved and military supervisors can be given greater power to monitor individuals with problems. Leave the rest of us alone to live free, adult lives.

  • Mike

    I agree that the freedom of choice is a precious thing. The government shouldn’t be applying rules and regulations governing what we choose to do for entertainment…especially when it involves a ‘Possible’ addiction. As far as the military is concerned, I believe it is a good thing that someone is stepping in and looking out for our troops. As a military member, you don’t have any rights because you gave them up when you sign on the dotted line. Your body belongs to the government and it is actually a crime to damage your body. When someone in the military gets into trouble, they are on their own as far as help for the most part. There are very few that will step up and help you when you trip and fall. I’ve seen this happen many times while I was in the military. Someone gets into trouble and because they didn’t seek help before it got out of control they are dismissed from the military. The downsizing of out military forces doesn’t help either as military leaders will discharge someone for the smallest infraction these days which hurts the families more than just punishing the accused.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    It is certainly interesting to hear international perspectives on this. The question of whether or not gambling or other activities should be regulated at all seems to be the issue that most are focusing on. To clarify in light of EA’s comment, I’m not advocating for the prohibition of gambling in other countries. In the United States presently, regulation of gambling (even in the case of Indian casinos) is a given. The nature of that regulation has undergone some dramatic changes, however, and again I have been surprised that there does not appear to be a vocal constituency voicing concerns over this trend. I have found the WikiPedia article “Native American gambling enterprises” to be informative in providing background about how legal changes have taken place in the US regarding casinos on Indian land. The existence and availability of lotteries and other forms of gambling for people to participate in both in person in the United States, as well as online in the multitude of Internet-based gambling sites, seems to be thoroughly institutionalized. In this way, our current digital era does bear some resemblances to the “wild west” days of pioneer towns in the United States in the mid to late 1800s. I don’t really foresee that changing anytime soon.

    The issue of whether or not elected officials should mislead the public in getting a lottery approved to provide more funds for public education, and then renege on that promise by reducing the amount of general fund dollars provided for education, remains here and still needs to be addressed. Whatever your opinion on the regulation of gambling in any of its forms, I hope most people would agree it is undesirable and unacceptable for elected officials to behave in this way. This is more than just a “campaign promise” which is not fulfilled, since the law actually requires lottery dollars to SUPPLEMENT and not SUPPLANT. This is a political hot potato, I think and one that unfortunately is not getting mainstream press attention.

  • Alex

    This seems very ironic to me that these soldiers are there to protect our freedoms and somehow every time something like this happens the knee-jerk reaction is to curtail that freedom for which those soldiers valiantly die for. With freedom comes responsibility and I agree whole heartedly with the libertarian philosophy. Situations like these are bound to happen but the cost to society in general is much greater if the liberty and freedom secured by death in and of itself becomes meaningless if liberty cannot be allowed to prosper. Although regrettably, this soldier lost his life due to his illness, which does not mean the rest of the population must suffer. While the theory of controlling such things as speed limits or drugs have provided moral comfort, in reality have done nothing to stop speeders or users of drugs. The only way to really control something is through education, for each human being is a free person by nature and if you go against nature you are truly fighting a losing battle.

  • Tim Bowers

    There have been some interesting comments made about gambling here. I find that most of the comments miss the big point. One individual had a problem. Suicide was the eventual report. That gambling was the “cause” is very subjective.

    I am a former member of the US military. When I was stationed in Europe our base had three suicides on base in one year. It was and still is a problem in the military. Legislation to eliminate one “cause” is nothing but political grandstanding. Despair and futility are problems within our military. Our current system is very stressful. Our military is constantly doing more with less. ANY diversion is a welcome relief. It is true that gambling can become addictive. Alcohol can become addictive. Sex can become addictive. The internet can become addictive. Are we going to ban everything that can become addictive?

    When I was an NCO I was taught that it was our job to help our troops. We were shown how to identify and assist service members that had problems. I also learned that there are people that will not accept your help, no matter how much you care or try to help. Trying to legislate morality is nothing more than “political correctness”. The only thing I have to say to Rep. Davis is stay our of our military. Leave it to former and current members to help our troops. If you really have the desire to assist the military, pass some realistic funding bills for our troops.

  • http://myfla.ws Arthus Erea

    I agree with Tim, that we should not ban something just because it can become addictive.

    As you mentioned, the government does put limits on other things like consumption of drugs and speed limits. However, it is important to note that those are things which endanger the public health beyond the infringing individual. However, with gambling the only person hurt is the infringing individual and his beneficiaries.

    And yes, I am a libertarian in many regards. However, I am by no means a Republican and see a lot more potential in most liberal candidates than conservative ones.

    I’ll leave you with this: does gambling really endanger the public health? Or does it just endanger those who chose to do it?

  • http://CNN.com Jim Stewart

    If the military is generating profits of $140,000,000 for just 3,000 slot machines and they are concerned with soldiers overspending, why not “loosen” the slots some so they pay out a little better.

    Afterall, these machines are for “recreational” use on military bases where profit goes towards their recreational fund anyhow. Here are three different approaches that could be taken to alleviate this concern:
    1.) Increase the machines’ payout.
    2.) Limit the “coin-in” to Pennies and nickels.
    3.) Hand out “tokens” to soldiers to use on the slot machines. Points earned could work towards prizes instead of money.

    I don’t think the military needs to be profiting from military personnel via gambling. Our soldiers don’t get paid very well, as it is. Let’s figure out a way to maximize the money they actually bring home for their families!

  • NITPICKER2

    My concern on Indian Casinos is the lack of any state regulation. They regulate themselves. It is like the fox guarding the hen house. These people are cheating the senior citizens in our state by manipulating the slot machines for zero or very low payouts. They lure these seniors by offering small free play bonuses and offer free meals on certain days. These tribes are making huge profits but they are making those profits dishonestly. If they choose they can set those machine to not pay at all and they do it with the click of a computer mouse. It is a shame that The State of Oklahoma allows them to cheat the citizens of this state and especially the elderly citizens of this state.

  • TP_SCUM

    Gambling is not bad as long as the games are fair. The Indian Casinos seem to have a license to steal in Oklahoma. The slot machines can be adjusted at anytime to control the payouts. The only gamble is playing when the machines are in the payout mode or not. When they are not in the payout mode everyone in the casino playing slots are being ripped off. I do see a lot of elderly people playing and it is a shame that cheating is allowed. I have played at The Riverwind and the Newcastle Casinos and 80% of the time the payouts are very low. The payout percentage can be adjusted at will from an office computer.

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