The Real Tragedy of Gambling

The Real Tragedy of Gambling

Gambling expansion comes at high cost

2023 | Week of December 11 | Radio Transcript #1544

Here are a couple of headlines from Wisconsin newspapers. See if you can identify the common theme. “Bus system worker stole $224,000, auditors say;” “Man with secret habit killed himself as investigation neared.” And this one will clarify, if you hadn’t yet figured it out. “Distraught gambler kills wife, children, himself.”

Yes, these headlines relate to the effects of problem gambling and the impact it has on our communities and families right here in Wisconsin.  In spite of the problems, our state has a love-affair with gambling—at least many in official positions. For instance, did you know that advertising the lottery is illegal? It is. But you’d never know that from the glitzy ads that appear on television, radio, and online. Lottery officials say as long as they give the odds in the ads, it’s just “product information” and not advertising. Apparently, they think we’re all fooled.

Governor Evers has unilaterally legalized sports betting on casino property. Then there is the casino issue, which just keeps rearing its ugly head. In 2021, Governor Evers approved the state’s first off-reservation casino in Beloit. The Native American tribes already have about 25 casinos—before the governor said yes to Beloit. We’ve said for years that once the first off-reservation casino was approved, the other 10 tribes would each want one. And sure enough, that’s happening.

When Scott Walker was governor, the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin, in cahoots with the Seminole tribe in Florida, tried their best to put an off-reservation casino in Kenosha. Walker ultimately said no. But with Beloit in play, the Kenosha effort is resurrected—different land and different city and county officials from eight years ago, but the net result would be the same—another casino.


Much of the current Kenosha effort has been done in secret and done badly. And city and county officials involved in the secret negotiations should be embarrassed and must be held accountable. However, while discussions of environmental impact, federal and tribal gaming pacts, political contributions, and even inter-tribal competition tend to be the highlights of the controversies in these stories, but what about the impact of gaming expansion on Wisconsin families?

However, there is not enough talk about the real reasons why we should be concerned about the expansion of legalized gambling in Wisconsin. The reasons are not that new competition hurts established tribal casinos, the reasons are that legalized gambling has real consequences for our families and our communities.

When gambling appears in a community, specifically through a casino, it brings with it a wave of addiction. In a mature gambling market, compulsive gambling typically seizes the lives of 1.5% to 2.5% of the adult population. That amounts to three to five times the number of people suffering from cancer! The American Psychiatric Association says between 1% and 3% of the U.S. population is addicted to gambling, depending on location and demographics. Youth have even higher addiction rates, between 4 and 8%. Bottom line: the closer a person lives to a casino, the more likely he or she is to become a problem or even addicted gambler.

Studies have shown that across the board, when addiction ripens in the market, so do the social costs. Legalized gambling has been shown to double bankruptcy rates, destroy local businesses, skyrocket crime rates, and most damaging to families, greatly increase the likelihood of suicide for problem gamblers. These adverse effects are dramatically compounded in areas that already suffer from poverty—and the gambling industry in general targets low-income populations.

Everyone wants a strong and vibrant economy, but with the expansion of legalized gambling, the house wins every time, with families an enormous price.

Thanks to the good work of Lorri Pickens, executive director of Wisconsin Citizens Against Expanded Gambling, the Kenosha casino proposal isn’t a fait accompli. Recently, both the city and the county postponed final votes on the proposal until early in the new year. Citizens weighing in with officials and showing up at meetings has been difference-making to be sure. We can only hope wisdom and reason will ultimately prevail in this issue. We don’t need horrific headlines from Kenosha about the tragedy of gambling.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you that God, through the Prophet Hosea, said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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