Pennsylvanias 2006 Casino Legislation Smoking Ban and Cross Addiction Issues

Pennsylvania has finally passed Act 71, the bill to legalize casino gambling in the state. Simultaneously, the state passed a smoking ban that prohibits smoking in any public area. Ironically, casinos could gain
exemption from that ban, making them the only public facilities where patrons can both drink and smoke in a social setting. In addition, 2006 marked the first full year that the changes to U.S. bankruptcy laws have been in effect. To the casual observer, those three facts may seem unrelated but upon further investigation we find they are undeniably linked.

It is common knowledge, among addiction specialists and those they treat, that one addiction can easily bleed into another, commonly called cross addiction. What a bonus it would be for the Pennsylvania
gaming industry, to develop casinos in areas that are already struggling with drug and alcohol addictions while providing the only public establishments where those addicted to nicotine can socialize. The state has practically sided with the tobacco industries in promoting nicotine addiction.

By allowing smoking only in casinos, the state will be sending a powerful message to those willing to hear it. In effect, legislators are saying they are superficially against smoking and the health risks it presents, but are fully capable of taking advantage of those already addicted to a substance; a strikingly similar stance to that taken by the tobacco industry. Not only is Pennsylvania willing to capitalize on the smoking ban, the state is also admitting through their actions, that they are fully aware of the addictive nature of both smoking and gambling and the ease with which an individual addicted to one substance can move into having a cross addiction. Arguments can be made that cigarette smoking is not as problematic or dangerous as a cocaine or heroine addiction. Nevertheless, chronic smokers do suffer form a scientifically proven addiction to a substance and to invite them to be able to smoke only in a facility that is promoting other addictive pastimes is an obvious and sickening psychological manipulation. Casinos will be the only establishments where Pennsylvanians can consume alcohol, smoke and gamble legallythat’s quite the hotbed of addictive activities. Perhaps, Pennsylvania legislators have adopted the same philosophy as a spokesperson for Indiana’s Aztar Casino who, as reported by Online Casino News, said that Aztar Casino makes every effort to protect problem gamblers but the customers have a personal responsibility to get treatment for their addiction, especially after being diagnosed as addicts.

Such a position on gambling addiction is equivalent to saying we should set up legalized crack houses, where addicts can use drugs freely so long as they remain within the building; but the consequences of their
addiction, the crimes committed to support it, the loss of life and welfare resulting from drug use will not be the concern of the government. After all, if the drug users know they are addicts, they should “just get help” and quit abusing substances, it’s that simple- Apparently, someone needs to educate the casino owners and supporting government officials on the nature of the disease of addiction!

Supporters of Act 71 are always quick to point out the many ways Pennsylvania’s economy “should” benefit from casinos and out of state revenue. However, they repeatedly shy away from questions
addressing how much more addiction counseling, police work and crime prevention measures will cost the taxpayers. They also continually dodge questions of the effects legalized gambling is likely to have on the individual citizen’s pocketbook. Proven statistics regarding the Bankruptcy filing rates in states that already have gaming facilities in operation, may provide the answers.

If we examine the findings of the Bankruptcy Developments Journal, we see that the third leading cause of individual bankruptcies in the United States is legalized gambling. Statistics show that more than 20% of compulsive gamblers have filed for bankruptcy after financially bottoming out on the gambling scene and maxing out credit cards in attempt to finance their addiction. States including Minnesota, Michigan and Kansas reported increases in bankruptcy filings as well as higher unsecured credit card debt and inflated debt-to-income ratios after their states introduced legalized gambling.

In 2005, laws for individual filing of bankruptcy became more strict, limiting and costly. It is now much more difficult for the average American to file for bankruptcy yet, in a few short months, statistics show that Pennsylvania residents with an addiction disorder are likely to find themselves in the position of having to do exactly that. Unfortunately, the non-discharge of gambling debts will keep gambling addicts and their families in debt to the casinos forever, which would perpetuate the gambling addict’s desire to continue gambling in order to “get out of the hole”.

I wonder how many Pennsylvania officials have bothered to sit down with the children of gambling addicts, look into their eyes and listen to the stories of fathers and mothers who have been abducted from
the loving arms of their families by the one arm bandits in casinos. Have supporters of Act 71 listened to the heartache of loved ones who have had to sell belongings to pay utility bills after savings accounts
were depleted by the problem gamblers in the family? Has anyone riding the legalized gambling bandwagon, bothered to investigate the loss of life and liberty suffered by the children of problem gamblers
who have found themselves homeless or close to it due to the losses at the slot machines? Where will the supporters of Act 71 be when Pittsburgh begins scrambling to provide rehabilitation facilities and
temporary financial sustenance to those individuals and families destroyed by gambling and cross addictions intensified by legalized gambling?

The state seems ready to capitalize on the weaknesses of individuals without shame. As of September 27, 2006 Pennsylvania has essentially told residents – We do not care about you, your families or your welfare. We care solely about taking advantage of those individuals we feel are “expendable” and we are willing to line our pockets with the blood sweat and tears of our hardworking citizens and their families. Pennsylvania’s slogan has long been “You’ve Got A Friend In Pennsylvania.” With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Works Sited: Online Casino News; Bankpruptcy Developments Journal issue 19; Casino Free PA; Gamblers Anonymous; National Institute On Drug Abuse; The Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry