Editorial: State needs to reconsider its casino proposal

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 27, 2005

Gov. Pawlenty’s suggestion to build a casino somewhere in the Twin Cities to add money &045; $200 million initially and $100 million estimated annual after &045; to the state coffer and benefit poor northern Minnesota Indian tribes is simply a bad idea.

He softens the proposal saying the casino money would eventually be used to fund sports stadiums and arts, as well as other community assets. Call us cynical, but how long would it be before all the casino money would be funneled into sports’ programs, with little benefiting arts or any other community assets. We also must ask which community’s assets will get funded under this plan?

The governor and legislators should look past the money generated by a state-run casino to the cost of treating people with a gambling addiction. Approximately two million adults meet the criteria of a pathalogical gambler in the U.S., with 16 states &045; Minnesota among them &045; providing funding for problem gambling programs.

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In 2003, 873 individuals received state-funded treatment for problem gambling, as well as treatment for either chemical dependency or mental health problems. Worse, eight in 10 Minnesotans do not know of a financial resource available to those who need problem gambling treatment and can not afford to pay for it themselves.

Compulsive gambling treatment funding established in 1997 became available in Southeastern Minnesota, allowing 12 counties &045; including Freeborn &045; access to $150,000 in treatment money. It was anticipated that the money would serve 50 to 55 problem gamblers and 100 to 150 family members.

The money certainly is welcome assistance for those with a problem, however, it isn’t enough to cover all those in need, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. And though the $150,000 expense is a far cry from the anticipated $100 million in anticipated revenue, with easier access to casinos, the problem could end up costing the state far more in treatment funding.

From a moral perspective, the state shouldn’t try to increase revenue on the backs of its most vulnerable citizens &045; those who have mental, chemical or addiction issues.