Gambling revenues create dangerous precedents


Recently I read in the National Catholic Register that 18 Canadian Church leaders, representing most of the major Church bodies in their country, had sent a joint letter to their government calling for an independent review of state-sponsored gambling in Canada.

The Church leaders called for “a moratorium on gambling expansion until such time as a public review has been completed and policy recommendations have been enacted.” Their letter was not prompted by any outright rejection of gambling as evil because their particular churches do not believe this but on what they believe is happening in Canada because of state-sponsored gambling as it now exists. As a result of a study they had commissioned earlier, they have concluded that “state-sponsored gambling is bad public policy, bad economics and bad public morality.”

When I read this article, I thought that this is advice that we in South Carolina need to hear and heed since according to what we read and hear in the media too many of our citizens seem determined to “catch up” with Georgia and other states that have turned to state-sponsored gambling to raise revenues to run government.

Yes, many of our political leaders, in both parties, are telling us of the good that is being done with revenue from video poker machines and legalized bingo, revenue that would be cut back if these games of chance are not allowed to continue operating. They too often do not tell us the “horror stories” about problem gamblers wasting money that should have been spent for food or rent for themselves and their families.

But “catching up” with the other states that raise considerable revenue through state-sponsored gambling is a more serious problem. In South Carolina the state government would not just allow gambling, but would promote it as other states do with their lotteries. The reason for this is obvious. The more people who play the lottery, the more revenue the state will take in.

As the state becomes more dependent on revenue from gambling, the more it will encourage its citizens to obtain their fortune not the old-fashioned way by working for it, but by “investing” all the funds they can scrape up even rent and food money in buying the winning ticket. What effect will this state-sponsored promotion of gambling have on society? We don’t have to guess. As the Church leaders in Canada suggest, we just have to read studies already made or have another objective study made.

Many already complain that as taxpayers we should be concerned with the need and greed of our political leaders for more and more money. They seem to be hearing the message by promising not to raise taxes even on those who could afford to pay more than they do now. But human decency demands that we not allow them to raise money on the weaknesses of others. This is what happens when so called “sin taxes” are raised supposedly to curb undesirable practices but in fact to raise revenue. With state-sponsored gambling South Carolina will be promoting gambling that can be a serious problem for too many of our fellow citizens.

The Canadian Church leaders wrote: “We understand that it will be difficult for governments to overcome their dependency on gambling-generated revenues. But we do believe it possible.” May we in South Carolina not become more dependent on such funds. Government needs to be funded the old-fashioned way, that is by political leaders convincing us that a program’s government funding is necessary and therefore should be funded by taxpayers.

Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy is pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City and is dean of the Pee Dee Deanery.