Should gambling be kept out of Hawai'i?
The information in this column was taken from a brochure for a public forum on "Gambling: What Should We Do?", 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturday at the University of Hawai'i Campus Center Ballroom.
There will be short presentations on three choices: keep gambling out of Hawai'i (Margery Bronster); highly regulated and limited gambling (Lawrence Boyd); more study on social and economic impacts for Hawai'i (Karl Kim).
Participants will get a chance to debate the three positions in smaller break-out group sessions. Here is a look at the first two options:
Keep gambling out of Hawai'i
The position: Gambling is a parasitic and destructive business. It spreads crime and corruption and is a potential compulsive addiction. Economic benefits aren't distributed throughout the community. They stay with those who own and manage gambling operations. Yet, the social costs must ultimately be borne by the public. Communities that host legalized gambling suffer increased crime rates and public health problems. It's a bad business.
What should we do?
Prohibit the growth of gambling in Hawai'i and prohibit the legalization of gambling.
Create a public education campaign to expose the problems with gambling, especially for students beginning at the elementary level and continuing through college.
Sponsor public forums to discuss gambling and its negative effects on the community.
Social costs are high. Problem or pathological gambling increases the potential for depression, domestic abuse, divorce, homelessness, suicide and crime. Other costs include lost productivity of workers impaired by problem or pathological gambling and the cost to society for treatment programs. Gambling increases the potential for depression, domestic abuse, divorce, homelessness, suicide and crime.
Legalizing gambling turns an antisocial activity into a social norm. Gambling encourages people to believe they can get something for nothing, and that life is guided by chance rather than by hard work.
Supposed economic benefits do not reach the community at large, rather, the benefits are maintained within the gambling industry and its environs.
This choice says gambling is bad and must be banned. Should all "bad" things be banned? Fast cars? Suntans? Red meat? People should have free choice. Gambling will help our economy by creating more jobs, increasing government assistance in communities and reducing unemployment.
The perceived negative social consequences of gambling are not proven. More study is needed on whether legalized gambling leads to higher rates of adolescent gambling, depression, domestic abuse, divorce, homelessness, suicide and crime, and on the cost-benefit analysis of jobs and revenues created from a regulated gambling industry with the cost of preventing and treating any negative social consequences related to gambling.
A possible tradeoff
In keeping gambling out of Hawai'i, our state loses a critical opportunity to help our economy by creating more jobs and reducing unemployment. Gambling increases the potential for more tourism, an important source of economic growth. This in turn, will generate revenues to address needs and problems we now face in our schools and communities. Since high unemployment rates and illegal gambling already bring harsh social consequences, creating jobs through gambling may actually help to decrease depression, domestic abuse, divorce, homelessness, suicide and crime in the state.
Introduce gambling but regulate it
The position: Like alcohol, gambling is dangerous if there aren't adequate controls. Americans expect protection in the marketplace, not state promotion of gambling. Voters also deserve the right to say yes or no to gambling proposals. The gambling industry has emerged as an economic mainstay in many communities and plays an increasingly prominent role in state and regional economies. Although it could be kept out of Hawai'i, it is virtually certain that legalized gambling will continue everywhere else. Whether empirically based or not, gambling would produce negative impacts on society without government regulation. Therefore, the appropriate remedy is to introduce gambling but regulate it to ensure that the state obtains economic benefits, along with preventing negative social consequences.
What should we do?
Do not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Yes, outlaw predatory business practices like casinos serving free alcohol that can encourage excessive drinking and gambling but don't outlaw casinos, which bring jobs and dollars into the state.
Ensure that citizens have unbiased information about the gambling proposals and more power to accept or reject them. Include in the political pro the major decisions regarding legalized gambling and ensure ongoing oversight through legislative rules and regulatory bodies.
Make well-defined public policy with specific goals and limits, which include a strategy on how gambling will best be utilized to advance the larger public purpose and role for regulation.
Left unregulated, gambling could be a dangerous business that poses risks to Americans. Government has a duty to protect consumers. Treat gambling just like other consumer products.
Keep the state out of the business end and focus on regulation. States can't regulate gambling effectively if they are promoting it and becoming dependent on gambling revenues.
Gambling industry changes are constant, and government will need to consistently and continuously review public policy to identify needed changes and maximize goals of legalized gambling. Some businesses may contend that illegal gambling by other businesses creates an unfair advantage because profits can be used to subsidize costs for food, drinks and even gasoline. Regulation of legal gambling would bring an equitable opportunity.
Just because other states have gambling doesn't mean we have to. Hawai'i is different. Let's keep it that way.
Regulatory practices tend to be inconsistent, and there is often little real oversight in capturing violators. Better to just keep it out.
Bans on gambling are a Big Brother choice. Government can't and shouldn't regulate all aspects of American life to "prevent" possible problems. There are already too few resources to deal with existing problems.
Gambling is destructive by nature and can't be made safe.
A possible tradeoff
Let's get gambling into Hawai'i but let's also make sure it is very carefully regulated and that there is good enforcement. It will allow people to exercise their own choice but with strong enforcement to prosecute and hold accountable those who violate these laws and rules. Let's also tax gambling heavily and use the money for specific social betterments.