A Swift Kick in the Casino

BY PETER HERRICK
05.20.2002 | SOCIETY

When I was 9 or 10, I remember slugging a friend in the shoulder because I'd heard that he'd said something untoward about my family. It turned out not to be true and, following our childhood code of justice, I turned and let him take a 'free shot' at my shoulder. When we were 10, reparations were more along the eye-for-an-eye code than the pay-up-cash code. Perhaps some of our adult struggles should be dispatched that simply.

Recently the idea of allowing Native Americans to open a casino has been hotly debated around the country, and here in Maine it is reaching a fevered pitch. The local tribes want to make money, and the towns and State have been debating the possible merits and risks of the project. Some say that the local Indian tribe should be able to do what they want on their land. Others point out that there are various social ills and problems commonly associated with casinos, which outweigh the considerable sums to be made. Still others say, hey, that's a LOT of money for the Tribe, the State, and the towns, and can anyone really afford to walk away from that kind of cash? But the reality is that it's an issue of the reparations owed to Native Americans. No other group could even consider this sort of project, and in the past, our government has allowed Native Americans to do things the rest of us can't. Any anyway, that's a LOT of money, eh?

The U.S. government has rained down evil on Native Americans for the entirety of our history. Columbus, history books are now recognizing, was an evil man, and some argue that he's personally responsible for a million native deaths. Those that came after him followed his example, and the settlements of the Europeans spent the next centuries breaking deals with the natives, killing them, driving them from their lands, and forcing them into reservations.

After all the violence and havoc wreaked on Native Americans, don't we owe them a better life? Don't we owe them the right to make a living any way they can? Don't we owe them a shot at opening a business, even if it lies outside of the rules we live by? But these are the wrong questions. Think of my 10-year old friend: he didn't ask for my allowance, he corrected my error by punching me back. Instead of asking what the U.S. Public owes Native Americans, the question should be 'what do they owe us?'

So what do Native Americans owe the U.S. population? A little pain and suffering perhaps? A little degradation? Maybe even some crime and addiction to pollute our tidy streets and razor-perfect lawns? Considering our joint history, they owe us a lot of damage. We have slugged them, and it turned out to be wrong. Now we owe them a Free Shot.

Times have changed, and murder, pogroms and outright violence are no longer the answer. They're too grotesque and they look terrible on the evening news. Rather, we must grant them the power to hurt us in other, more subtle, ways. They need a vice, one that will really fray the precious fabric of the American Lifestyle. Since we already have a corner on both the tobacco and alcohol markets, they're pretty much left with gambling as the only available damaging vice.

Gambling in this country is big business. In a 1996 Arthur Anderson survey, casinos in this country (in 1995) took in between $22 and $25 BILLION dollars in total revenues, and paid $2.9 billion in taxes. That's a lot of money, but one of the problems with the industry is that "40-60% of the cash wagered by individuals in casinos is not physically brought onto the premises." Think credit lines and credit cards here, not the money in a gambler's savings account. We're talking about people who chase their losses straight into their debt.

According to a Harvard meta-analysis of gambling studies, 1.6% of the American adult population are pathological gamblers. Another study found the number in Oregon to be 4.9%; a third study found 7% of Mississippi and Louisiana gamblers to fit the profile. Yet another study puts 10.25% of the American adult population to be in one of the categories: "pathological gamblers," "problem gamblers," or "at-risk gamblers." According to estimates of attendance from Maine's casino supporters, this would come out to well over 400,000 pathological, problem, or at-risk gamblers tapped by a casino in Kittery. Now that's damage!

And of course, there are other social problems associated with gambling, like the associated crime that goes with bottoming out, and even suicide attempts. According to the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" published by the American Psychological Association, 20% of those in treatment for Pathological Gambling "are reported to have attempted to commit suicide." And that's just the ones that made it to treatment.

Sure, Europeans killed off the majority of Natives they found here in what we now call America, and sure we've mistreated those that survived. But are we just going to give them some cash to shut up and go away? No. We tried that 20 years ago in Maine, and people are still clamoring for reparations. Instead, we should give Native Americans the modern version of a Free Shot. Let them open a casino--or a hundred of them--and take a shot at us, weak and susceptible as we are to gambling's destruction. They owe us that much.

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