By Bill Webb
The elderly gentleman listened patiently as the city manager gave the results of a water sample test to members of the city council in his southern Illinois community. The council was responding to a concern the man had lodged a meeting or two earlier about a small creek that ran alongside his home. He referred to it as a ditch and had suggested that it must be polluted, judging from the smell he and others had noticed. He was particularly concerned that neighborhood children played in and around the lazy stream of water.
The city manager had heard the complaint and had the water tested. When he gave his report on the findings, he explained that the results were conclusive — they showed that nothing was wrong with the water in the ditch. It did not present a hazard. He was not sure what else the city could do.
The old gentleman could sit still no longer. He jumped from his chair, shook a finger at the council and almost shouted, “But that ditch stinks!” He and his neighbors knew something wasn’t right, but the folks at City Hall didn’t have to live with the offending odor.
The voters of Jefferson City are facing a similar dilemma at the polls next week. The city council in Missouri’s capital city decided several weeks ago in a 6-4 vote to place a pair of propositions on the April 8 ballot that would drop a ban on casino gambling in the city and open the door for a land-based riverboat casino on the Missouri River, in the shadow of Missouri’s impressive Capitol.
Proponents of casino gaming in the community naturally point toward the financial benefits of such a venture to education, the local economy and the community as a whole. Some see this as a venture to complement the development of a long-planned convention center and the potential revitalization of the historic downtown of the City of Jefferson.
Others cite new job opportunities in the city as a benefit of a thriving casino operation. Some present Boonville and its experience with casino gambling during the past few years as proof that concerns about increases in crime are unfounded. Some of those are Jefferson Citians who frequent the Boonville casino and lament not having a closer option for recreational gambling. Others suggest gaming has not come to that community without costs.
There is a sense among some that a casino will bring “easy money” to Jefferson City and help undergird community services well beyond what local taxes, businesses and other enterprises can do.
Proponents play up gambling’s potential benefits to the community but minimize or ignore the harm such an industry can inflict on individuals and their families. Such costs tend not to show up in economic development reports.
Opposition has been significant to this city-council initiative to abolish the ban on casinos in Jefferson City’s charter. Vocal opponents of casino gambling have included many pastors and church members in addition to social service professionals, educators, business people and others.
Without question, many citizens do not see the harm. For them, casino gambling is no more than one more entertainment option. They prefer to drop $100 bucks into an evening at a casino instead of at a ballpark in St. Louis or Kansas City. Some proponents have suggest that on average only one in 100 casino visitors becomes an addicted gambler. “So what’s the problem?” they ask.
Such odds — even if they were accurate — are deceptive. Rarely is a gambling addiction the problem of a single person. Men and women have spouses and children and perhaps others who depend upon them. The affliction of addiction tempts a person to be deceptive and dishonest with members of his or her own family and employer, creating secondary victims who may have no personal involvement in gambling themselves.
Many gambling addicts leave trails of unpaid bills and default on personal obligations. Such people and those closest to them require a share of a community’s social services. Some resort to crime. The community does pays a price for those upon whom gambling preys.
Surely the citizens of Missouri’s capital city will not want to see even a small percentage of their community victimized by the allure of easy money, as attractive as that might seem. Gambling is not a wholesome way for government to fund its services. It is ironic that government wants to encourage adults to do what we discourage our children from doing.
If the citizens of Jefferson City vote to overturn a pair of measures on the April 8 ballot, they will open the door to what became known a few years ago as land-based casinos, or “boats in moats.” Interestingly, Dictionary.com defines a moat as a “ditch.”
Casino gambling’s negative influence has been thoroughly tracked. It would not take long before those closest to casino gambling’s victims cry out, “That ditch stinks!” It would be better to speak out on Election Day.