Friday, November 17, 2006

Food for thought - Las Vegas in the hills of Donegal

(Column for local newspaper)
Donegal band ‘Goats don’t Shave’ appear to belong to the mystical fraternity of prophets and soothsayers. Back in 1992 they were singing about casinos and building “Las Vegas in the hills of Donegal”.

Did they know something that we didn’t? It would seem that way, for if recent talk has been anything to go by then casinos are bound for Letterkenny, if they aren’t already here.

“What’s the harm? Sure it’s just a bit of fun.” I know that we have the EuroMillions jackpot coming up this week, and we have “Winning Streak” and the place is full of bookies and scratch-card outlets; so what harm could a casino do?

It just adds to the pressure. Gambling is destructive to society. Let me give 9 documented reasons why gambling is destructive:
  • It exploits the poor – UK Surveys show that there are three-and-a-half times more problem gamblers among people earning less than £15,600, than among those earning over £31,200. The people who can least afford to gamble are the ones most hurt.
  • It often leads to addiction – The cycle of ‘some you win, some you lose’ which makes gambling so attractive is what makes it extremely addictive, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
  • It allows people to get into serious financial difficulty very quickly. The mathematical rules behind gambling mean that you aren’t meant to come out on top, rather you are meant to get in deeper. Casinos aren’t there for the public good. Organisations that help the public financially are helpfully designated by another name: ‘Charities’.
  • It leads to crime – The state of Wisconsin experienced an average of 5,300 additional major crimes a year due to the presence of casinos. Those who gamble and run out of funds need to find more funds somewhere to satisfy their addiction.
  • It destroys lives and damages society – According to the House of Lords/House of Commons Joint Committee set up to look at the impact of gambling, the harmful consequences include “job loss, absenteeism, poor work/study performance, stress, depression and anxiety, suicide, poor health, financial hardship, debts, asset losses, exposure to loan sharks, bankruptcy, resorting to theft, imprisonment, neglect of family, relationship breakdown, domestic or other violence, burdens on charities and burdens on the public purse.” Gambling is not harmless fun – it destroys lives, it destroys society.
  • It exacerbates weaknesses and develops greed. Gambling confirms some people in their weaknesses and cultivates greed in others. Casinos will draw in more easily those people who need just the opposite, namely, encouragement and guidance in financial matters.
  • It creates a culture of laziness – where people spend more time at the gaming table or the bookies rather than working to get money and contribute to society. If everyone made their money gambling we would have no-one to staff our hospitals or empty our bins, or sell us food.
  • It creates a burden for others – It is estimated that each problem gambler affects approximately 15 people’s lives and costs the state £35,000.
  • It makes a good thing an ultimate thing. Money isn’t evil, but taking a good thing and making it into the ‘be-all and end-all’ around which our life pivots is to make a god out of it. That is called idolatry. Of all the reasons this is the most serious. All the others speak of the damage gambling causes in this life, but this reason speaks of lives wrecked for all eternity. God will not tolerate being substituted by a few measly banknotes.
So often decisions are made for wrong reasons: it will be good for the economy, it will bring people to the area which can only be good for businesses. Seldom are the important factors considered: what will it really mean for people’s lives. Here the evidence abounds: gambling only makes a mess of people’s lives.

As well as all the above evidence, the Bible tells us that: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction… Some people, eager for money… have pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). In other words, the desire to be rich brings only grief. And to encourage grief and hardship by permitting casinos is only cruel.

So I urge the town’s councillors to have the courage to stand for what will be good in the long term for our county and not concede to the financial pressures or rewards. Be men and women of compassion and integrity. Take your obligations and responsibilities seriously so that you will not add to the problems of people who are under your care. We don’t want to need more support groups. We don’t want to add to the list of things that push people to the brink of suicide in this county.

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