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Thursday, May 5, 2022

I’d Bet On It

No wisdom in gambling expansion in Louisiana

Two thousand five hundred years ago, Socrates was credited with being the first to state, “Everything in moderation. Nothing in excess.”

And yet, our culture embraces excess.

For example, “You can never be too rich or too thin” is a common mantra. Food portions in restaurants continue to grow, along with insanely-high caloric content. We no longer watch just one favorite television show; we bingewatch whole seasons at a time, often forgoing sleep and other basic needs.

Then there’s alcohol abuse. As doctors say, we see an alarming, rising rate of abuse across the country. Plus, technology extremes. We went from dial-up Internet and hearing the infamous “You’ve Got Mail” to the average American now spending six hours and 42 minutes online each day; Americans (on average) check their phones 344 times per day (once every four minutes).

“Everything in moderation” is meant to remind ourselves that more of a good thing isn’t necessarily better. So when Louisiana voters expanded gambling in November 2020 from casinos and lottery tickets to now sports gambling (in 55 of 64 parishes) – all from the convenience of your mobile device – was it another example of how we sometimes can take something too far? Was the most significant gambling expansion in 30 years good for the state?

The reason for asking is that Louisiana is now the sixth-most gambling-addicted state, according to a WalletHub study. It is estimated that 280,000 Louisiana adults may be involved in problem gambling, according to the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Behavioral Health.

Surprisingly, though, the fastestgrowing addiction among high school and college-age young people is not alcohol or narcotics – it’s problem gambling, with as many as 1.3 million teenagers considered addicted. Some researchers say that youth gambling addiction is occurring at twice the rate as adults, as are the suicide rates, which are twice as high among teenagers with gambling problems.

Howard Schaffer, director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Addiction Studies, predicts, “We will face in the next decade or so more problems with youth gambling than we’ll face with drug use.”

Doctors say that gambling, like narcotics and alcohol, activates the brain’s reward system in the same way. The brain releases dopamine during enjoyable activities such as eating or sex. It is also released during situations where the outcome is uncertain, such as whether a team will win or lose or awaiting the outcome at a slot machine or roulette wheel. Studies have shown the effect of dopamine during gambling occurs in the same brain areas as those activated by taking drugs of abuse.

But it’s not just Louisiana. Total gambling revenues in the U.S. are set to exceed $44 billion this year – nearly the market size for movies, books and music combined.

But how much does our culture of entitlement also fuel gambling addiction? By gambling, you can effectively get something for nothing, so some people will take the risks. The attraction of a lottery, for example, is that you risk very little and can have a life-change result (although most lottery players don’t see the activity as gambling).

There’s certainly nothing “wrong” with gambling. It’s a form of entertainment, when in moderation. But the proliferation of gambling or the increased dependence on the “luck of the draw” is the essence of modernday liberalism. It seeks to minimize the power and responsibility of the individual to affect their own success – or failure. It attributes achievement more to luck or happenstance instead of hard work and discipline.

Like Benjamin Franklin said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

But on the wisdom of the largest gambling expansion in 30 years being good for Louisiana, that may be a bet we can’t win.

Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in 318 Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.

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