(The following comments come from our years living in South Lake Tahoe, CA, where the casino-oriented culture correlated with a dismal social landscape that included the highest per capita crime rate in the State of California.)
Recent news headlines have announced these statistics for Illinois: In October, sports betting surpassed the $1 billion mark. The state’s share: Over $560 million, seemingly a good thing for the state’s economic well-being. (Buried deeper in the story: Gambling addiction has increased sharply.)
In this sub-category of gambling, “players”—an odd word to describe this activity—can wager on every aspect of almost every sport. With real-time digital capabilities, gamblers can submit bets during games, matches or tournaments. TV ads add the enticement of bonus benefits for newbies.
Living in that gambling mecca back then, we saw how 24-7 casinos induced visitors with low-cost food, free transportation for Bay Area pensioners and the allure of famed entertainers. The beauties of the surrounding mountains added to the invitation to make Lake Tahoe a go-to destination.
During those days, we also learned about the underbelly of the gambling industry. (Several of our congregation members held significant positions in casino management. Our church actually called a seminary graduate to serve as a worker-priest in one casino.) We saw how individual lives and families could be scarred by the work requirements of these professions. How pervasive poverty could hide behind the glitz and glamour.
Another discovery: The cash scooped up by gambling enterprises was not available for other societal necessities. Well-heeled gamblers frittered away wealth that could have benefited their companies, their hometowns. Fringe grifters, prostitutes, burglars and petty thieves siphoned off their cut of this economic pie. Social services—unemployment, counselling, substance abuse—were overwhelmed.
From that experience, I wonder if sports betting will eventually bring the same societal ills to this state. More subtly corrosive than casinos, these digital platforms seem destined to erode the greater good.
That’s why, when it comes to this new toy, our recommendation: Don’t bet on it!
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