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This computer-generated image shows the bar area inside the proposed Ho-Chunk Casino Resort in Beloit. The casino would have 2,200 slot machines and 50 tables.

Has the proliferation of casinos made gambling more acceptable, or has gambling’s growing acceptance brought more casinos?

Maybe the answer doesn’t matter, but Americans’ insatiable appetite for wasting money on games of chance is nothing to celebrate and neither is the proposed casino project in Beloit. With 22 casinos already in Wisconsin, the industry has torn down social taboos that once kept hardcore gambling confined to two parts of this nation—Las Vegas and Atlantic City. More and more people subscribe to the casino industry’s value system: Wealth need not come from hard work. It can—and will for you—pour forth from slot machines and blackjack tables.

Like pornography and other vices, gambling has become so pervasive and has taken on so many new forms—from fantasy sports to state lotteries—it seems almost futile to try to stop it. To raise concerns about Beloit’s proposed Ho-Chunk Casino Resort is, in the eyes of this project’s proponents, to be old-fashioned, out of touch.

Who would object to creating jobs and filling the coffers of local governments?

We do. We dare suggest this project won’t be an economic development boon, at least not in the long run.

Let’s be clear about the nature of a casino. It is essentially a redistribution scheme: Money moves from the gambler to the casino and some of it to state and local governments. The casino business model depends on patrons harboring an illusion they can beat the odds, an illusion casinos happily reinforce through aggressive marketing.

It’s an illusion that preys on the people least able to afford gambling but most likely to become addicted to it.

An economic impact analysis on the proposed Ho-Chunk Casino Resort extols the many “benefits” in terms of jobs created and revenues generated.

But, of course, there’s nothing in this report about the human toll. When asked about the human toll, casino advocates point to their support for gambling addiction hotlines and related programs, as if the existence of these programs somehow justifies the casino’s role in fueling the addiction.

Common sense says putting a casino near people susceptible to addiction will lead to more gambling addicts and all the problems associated with that addiction.

A 2004 U.S. Department of Justice study examines the prevalence of pathological gamblers among those arrested in two communities with casinos, Las Vegas and Des Moines, Iowa. The study found 14.5 percent of the arrestees surveyed in Las Vegas and 9.2 percent in Des Moines met the American Psychological Association’s definition for a problem or pathological gambler. That’s three to five times the percentage found in the general population, the study says.

The pathological and problem gamblers’ crimes weren’t always or necessarily related to their gambling addiction, however. The arrestees often were found to also have alcohol and drug addictions. Casinos exacerbate societal ills, the study suggests.

Unfortunately, for the most part, the voices of dissent have been marginalized in the Beloit casino debate. The 11th Hour Beloit Casino group has tried to probe the downsides, but its message has been mostly drowned out by pro-casino hype.

“How do casinos make your community a better place? It’s a dream to think that it does,” group organizer Bill Dorr told The Gazette.

He’s right. Casinos thrive on illusions, and communities that welcome them are similar to gamblers in buying into that illusion. These communities dream that the jobs and revenues created by these projects will come at little or no cost.

They want to get rich quick, just like the casino patrons.

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