Letter to the editor: Kaufmann’s sports betting bill pushes gambling addiction

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Sports betting at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada. — photo by Baishampayan Ghose via Flickr

By Antonia Russo, Solon

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” —Simon and Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson”

State Representative Bobby Kaufmann’s gambling bill would legalize on-site and online college and professional sports betting, as well as daily fantasy sports sites (DraftKings and FanDuel). This is a massive expansion of gambling. The demand for this comes from the gambling industry, with its out-of-state billionaires, and from the state, for revenue — not from ordinary Iowans.

Since the 1980s, the gambling debate in Iowa has concerned public policy, not the personal choice to gamble. The expansion to slots and high stakes in 1994 revolved around the debts of communities that had over-invested in the industry, like Polk County (Prairie Meadows and horse racing) and Waterloo (the greyhound track) — not the merits of 21 Iowa casinos.

As the casinos spread their tentacles of money, lobbyists, investments and hand-outs into government and communities, the public good and the gambling interests became intertwined. Meyer Lansky, the financial genius of organized crime, used this tactic for the mob.

The latest excuse for expansion is tax revenue and ending illegal off-shore gambling. The Legislature says these gamblers will switch to a casino and pay taxes. This is patently dishonest.

The industry wants internet gambling. They are after every cell phone and wallet. They openly admit their goal is real time, 24/7 gambling access — on every cell phone and video game. The sleeper, scarcely mentioned in Kaufmann’s bill, is legalization of Daily Fantasy Sports betting. Go online and watch how DraftKings operates in New Jersey — offering nearly every available sport and type of wager with relentless ads. FanDuel promotes its “Sports Betting Training Camp,” instructing newcomers on how to bet!

This predatory industry uses advertising to exploit the neuroscience of addiction. Alarm bells have been ringing on children’s dependence on digital screens and games. According to the Times of London, in the United Kingdom, promotions and special offers from online gambling firms now regularly appear on social media feeds for children, directing them to the companies websites. Online fantasy sports gambling bills that legalize “eSports” allow gambling operators to turn every child’s video game console (like PlayStation and Xbox) into a casino — where young people can wager on video games.

Online gambling is a financial fraud that will result in life-changing losses for millions. Former Congressman Jim Leach, defending his 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, spoke of unconstrained internet gambling’s potential to alter America’s savings and investment habits.

In Iowa, studies show that 40-50 percent of gambling revenues come from problem or addicted gamblers. Like tobacco, the gambling lobby has spent millions to misdirect the academic literature on addiction. Iowa ignores its own studies, and will use massive ad campaigns and promotions to target these vulnerable people — because that’s where the money is.

Our state has moved from permitting, to promoting, to pushing gambling for revenue, exploiting the at-risk, financially desperate, addicted gamblers for money.

This is a monstrous betrayal of the public trust. Speak out now, and stop this legislation.

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