From the Lefthand Corner: Our not-so-charitable gambling


A headline in a Minneapolis newspaper recently read, "Charitable gambling in state soars past $2B." It makes it sound like a favorable accomplishment, a growth industry.

I don't think our forefathers gave it much thought, and neither did we until a few decades ago.

As with many issues, there are two sides to the gambling coin. Some welcome the dollars and excitement. Others decry it as part of a decadent society.

Some feel that no gambling is charitable.

My mother thought of it as sinful, as did others of religious bent. That strong feeling led to quite a family dilemma some 60 years ago. Voting was quite important in our household. Mom had consistently voted since suffrage, dutifully Democrat through war and peace.

Then, in the fall of 1948, she committed the unpardonable sin of voting for Republican Luther Youngdahl because he promised to get rid of slot machines and was a part of the well-known Youngdahl Lutheran minister family.

That didn't cut it with Dad, whose response was: "Get your own d—n ride to the polls from now on."

That meant that non-driving Mom didn't vote for a year or two until she repented or Dad relented. After that one digression, they blissfully continued their Democratic voting ways as long as they lived.

The political aspects of all sorts of gambling have been a matter of hot issue and dispute in Minnesota for quite some time. All have also gained heavy media coverage.

So, the headline about charitable gambling "soaring" will invite more response and reaction than your average, run-of-the-mill reporting.

Those favoring gambling in general will take it as a good sign of increasing dollar benefit to charitable nonprofit entities, as well as government coffers. Those who oppose will lament the foolish expenditure of dollars that participants can ill afford, and note the ineffective way of tax collection.

Overall, the statistics are not compelling. While the headline of annual $2 billion charitable gambling sales may be staggering, the underlying statistics are sobering. They take the swaggering out of staggering.

The net total payments to gambling operating charitable entities is only about $300 million. Of that, about half goes to the government in taxes and the entities split about $150 million. The most successful of those are a few urban and suburban hockey associations. Some of us non-urban, non-hockey folks don't necessarily think of them as being of dire need.

Gambling at best is certainly a deliberate, and usually foolhardy, attempt to acquire something for nothing. When friends who gather together in a local bar or restaurant and put a designated sum they can afford aside to buy pull tabs, share the tickets and the winnings, if any, quit when the designate money is gone and go home after drinking sensibly, one concludes: No problem. That is just a convivial part of their evening out.

However, when the pulling tabs or gambling becomes addiction, disaster strikes - hard.

My initial experience in that regard was in legal representation of a man in his early 40s. Pre-addiction, he was happily married, fully employed, almost high pension entitled and trusted treasurer of several funds. After a year or two of compulsive pull tab playing, he was a broken man facing multiple criminal charges, without a wife, house and home, terminated from his job, terminated from the other trusted treasurer positions and facing demands for restitution.

All we could save was the pension entitlement, and we were able to get reduction in criminal penalty. A benefactor came along and financed addiction treatment. So he was at least able to rebuild a new life.

Other gambling addicts aren't so fortunate.

Gambling addiction is not as destructive of the body as meth or alcohol or tobacco, but it is just as destructive of financial security, employment, criminal behavior and family life.

So, as you consider the pros and cons of permitting and encouraging more legalized gambling, keep in mind the consequences of addiction: sudden abject poverty, extreme long-term embarrassment, loss of employment, myriad criminal charges such as swindling, misappropriation, theft, embezzlement and bankruptcy.

The list goes on as to the price of gambling addiction.