Gambling with fellow Hoosiers’ well-being?

We have long-warned that an expansion of gambling in Indiana would also be expansion of the exploitation of vulnerable Hoosiers. Gambling entices people to throw away their money, and takes advantage of poor people with the lure of instant wealth.

Long ago, Indiana ignored the moral arguments against gambling with the beginning of the Hoosier Lottery in 1989. By 1993 we had jumped in with both feet, when the General Assembly approved riverboat gambling. Now Hoosiers can bet on horse races using mobile devices or over the internet, and can gamble on their phones in the state’s casinos. So perhaps it is pointless for us to decry the desire of our state’s legislators to join the six other states in the nation that now allow sports betting.

Last week, a legislative study committee unanimously recommended that the General Assembly, in its 2019 session, consider allowing Indiana to permit betting on the outcomes of professional and college sporting events. Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia, Mississippi and New Mexico have already instituted legal sports betting, since the U.S. Supreme Court, in May, struck down a federal sports-wagering ban. Indiana’s 13 casinos, and perhaps the off-track betting facilities owned by the two central Indiana horse track casinos, would likely be the outlets for sports wagering, according to the committee.

Conducted by Eilers and Krejcik Gaming, the study found that in-person and mobile sports bets in Indiana are likely to total $256 million a year within five years. That would mean 2,281 direct and indirect new jobs, and $38 million in annual new state tax revenue, according to a Northwest Indiana Times report.

The study predicts that sports betting — particularly on mobile devices — could grow Indiana’s overall gaming market. The report and supporters of the expansion of betting in Indiana make their case on the financial benefits to the state, and, let’s face it, money talks.

Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, the committee chair, said he favored a “broad recommendation” to move forward, adding, “I don’t see it as an expansion of gaming, any more than adding a machine to a casino.”

Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, like us, is a voice in the wilderness to the contrary.

“I struggle not to see this as an expansion of gambling,” he said.

Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, former executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches and a Democratic candidate for Congress in 2016 in her state, addressed what she believes is the public immorality of the government’s involvement in the expansion of gambling, saying it “leads to the sort of undoing of our common democracy, where we all pay in an equal and equitable way for what we need as a society. And this instead says, ‘Let’s fleece the suckers and get them to pay for what we aren’t willing to pay for ourselves.'”

We should not permit our state government to exploit the weaknesses of our citizens to fill our coffers.

Matt Bell, president and CEO of the Casino Association of Indiana, told the Indianapolis Star that sports betting, by itself, won’t bring a huge amount of money into the state treasury. The benefit of sports betting, he said, will be in attracting people to casinos who wouldn’t otherwise go there.

According to the Indiana Council on Problem Gambling (2013), about 4 percent of people who gamble will develop a gambling problem. Get them in a casino, and the problem gets worse.

So we sink even deeper in the muck of the gambling swamp with, as former editorial page editor Leo Morris once wrote, “the moral high ground farther and farther from view.”

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