Costs of addiction outweigh job gain

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By Peter E. Nathan


Repeated research studies suggest that every new casino increases the local prevalence of pathological gambling (the most serious and destructive kind of gambling addiction) and problem gambling (less serious but nonetheless a definite problem) by 5 percent to 7 percent over time. While this doesn’t sound like a lot, hundreds of residents of Cedar Rapids and surrounding communities might well become newly addicted to gambling in the next several years if the casino is built.

As such, they would be unable to control their urges to gamble and be at the mercy of behaviors that will deplete their families’ financial, emotional and social stability. Declines in job productivity or job loss, family discord, emotional stress, depression, substantial and continuing losses of resources all will cause financial distress as well as profound social and family problems.

These new gambling addicts, moreover, will require a variety of social, medical, police and legal services in Cedar Rapids that also cost money. An inpatient treatment for pathological gambling can cost thousands of dollars while hospitalization for attempted suicide, a common consequence of pathological gambling, can cost much more.

Moreover, gambling problems are frequently accompanied by other mental health and addiction problems, including alcoholism, drug dependence and severe depression. The costs of treatment for these conditions are considerable, as is their impact on family, jobs and social stability.

Supporters of the proposal to build a casino in Cedar Rapids point to the modest job gains — if there are any — it will bring to justify their efforts. There will be jobs for the construction trades during the building of the casino; additional jobs will be generated when the casino opens and hires maintenance, food service, dealers, and office workers. Many of those employees will be Cedar Rapids residents. All of that sounds good, even jobs that don’t pay much beyond minimum wage. But there is another side to this story that paints a very different picture.

When you go to the polls to vote on the casino referendum next month, I hope you will consider not just the financial gains its developers claim a casino might bring. Instead, I urge you to factor in the financial, social, mental health and addiction costs that are certain to burden the gamblers, their families, and this community.

Forty-five years of working with addicts of a variety of kinds, including problem and pathological gamblers, have convinced me that casinos do not deliver the financial gains inevitably promised. Instead, they cost the community and its people dearly. I urge you to ask yourselves whether the modest job gains projected are worth the profound, continuing financial, medical and social costs of the casino to the residents and the community of Cedar Rapids.

Peter E. Nathan is emeritus professor of psychology and public health and former provost, University of Iowa. Comments:

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