Forgotten collateral damage from government-in-gambling

from Flickr CC

from Flickr CC

What do the fourteen vignettes below have in common?  Can you guess  without the links?

1)      A 42 year old man in Michigan came home, fatally shot his pregnant wife and  their  three  children, then  himself.  http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=94936&page=1

2)      A father of two in VA gunned  down wife and son, shot his 11 year old daughter in the head, then killed himself .   Daughter described events (“bad dream” ),  died 3 days later .  http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-671609.html from Washington Post

3)      Father  in NV  left  7 year old daughter  in arcade under eye of her 14 year old brother.  She was raped and strangled in a bathroom by an 18 year old male. http://articles.latimes.com/2000/jul/07/local/me-48999

4)      An Iowa man just-divorced stabbed to death his ex-wife,  an executive at Arthur Anderson in Chicago.  He then drove off  with  their 7 year old daughter (seat-belted), swerved into oncoming truck.  Both were killed.  http://preview.tinyurl.com/bah4e8r

5)      In St Louis, a woman in her  late 20s was not at home when her 11 children died in a house fire.  http://preview.tinyurl.com/afjjftg

6)      Illinois woman reported death of 7-week old daughter due to SIDS, claimed $200,000 life insurance she had taken out on baby.  Fifteen months earlier another daughter had died at age 17 days.   Mother  had stated  SIDS.   http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1998-03-07/news/9803070058_1_insurance-fraud-dina-abdelhaq-sids

7)      Middle-aged Mississippi woman in good neighborhood shot to death husband and her mother while they slept.   http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2002-04-07/business/0204070020_1_neighbors-home-murder

8)      A  natural gas explosion in a house in Indiana when its occupants were out of town killed the couple next door and blew up five houses. tinyurl.com/cztdo5u

9)      A Rochester NY man strangled his fiancée when they quarreled the day before her bridal shower.   http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-157155335.html

10)   A 7 year old boy drowned in backyard  swimming pool at a day care facility.  The operator was off  the premises. http://articles.philly.com/2013-02-15/news/37102173_1_day-care-center-day-care-staff-members-day-care-office

11)   A Philadelphia grandmother was fatally stabbed and her 10-month old grand-daughter smothered by a 26 year old computer whiz who lived in same apt building.  http://articles.philly.com/2012-11-01/news/34838466_1_ransom-note-indian-expats-ransom-payment

12) A 28 year old man in CA was convicted in 2011 of having bludgeoned his parents to death with a bat in 2008 http://preview.tinyurl.com/bfnxy54

13) 92 year old woman in PA stabbed to death in 2011 by neighbor who had probably burgled her house several times before. http://preview.tinyurl.com/b6p4f3r 

14) added October 10 2014.  A 14 year old boy was left to baby-sit his 6-year sister while father went out with his lady friend,  came home much later  to find both unconscious from CO poisoning.  Little girl died in hospital, brother recovering.

The common threads  are gambling addiction and its  peri-gambler victims.  Gambling addiction and  peri-gambler victims are a predictable outcome, not a side effect,  of governmental policy described with much restraint by one notable critic as “failed.”  He might say “ rapacious and uncaring.”  This policy makes gambling legal not primarily to protect people by strict regulation from something harmful,  but to get government a piece of the action,  then grow the action “to support education.”  Thousands of   lives are hurt and dozens lost in this country each year under this policy. The gambling establishment and  compliant governments get away with it by misrepresenting the econometric costs and benefits and at the same time hiding the toll of unquantifiable human misery that is the direct consequence of this policy.

A frequent gambit by supporters of  government-sanctioned gambling is to say that revenue government gets from its sponsorship or “regulation” of gambling is a “sin tax,”  like  revenue from tax on tobacco or on liquor.   Some persons less moralistic, if more arrogant,  call it a “stupidity tax” or a “tax on ignorance.”  Two huge errors in this argument:

First, taxes on tobacco and alcohol are pigovian, meant as much to dampen consumption as to provide revenue.  The government actually spends money to discourage smoking.  It does not advertise that adults should drink more alcohol to get a shot at a better life and “fund education.”   Contrast this with the approach the NYS Lottery has taken in its nine-figure  advertising outlay of recent years.  Contrast it with Gov, Cuomo’s putting  up-front payments from three (?) new casinos in the proposed budget for 2016  before they  have been made legal.  Governments pretend legalized gambling is overall a beneficent enterprise.  They don’t want to impose tough restrictions or regulations ; those would decrease the flow or kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Second,  revenues to government from the sale of cigarettes and alcohol are not extracted from the bank accounts and home furnishings of  the  heavy smoker’s or the alcoholic’s family and friends.  Revenues from gambling are.  Smoking and drinking cause dreadful harm in many ways to non-smokers and non-drinkers.  An alcohol abuser can certainly make bad decisions resulting in injury, death  or  financial loss to someone else.  One cannot say, however, that the government set the stage for  the alcohol abuse, nor that government will get revenue if  an alcoholic in a fog sells his house for half its worth.  Another contrast here:   for most addicted and problem gamblers in the USA,  their loss is the direct gain of   the gambling exchange,  which passes a share to government.  The more they drop, the more the government gets.

Someone may still think of the problem gambler or pathological gambler as stupid or ignorant or sinful, deserving to pay a penalty for those defects.  No one with a heart, however, can think of the gambler’s young children or non-gambling spouse or unsuspecting   business partner  as deserving a penalty.  Yet these others are made to pay it, forward, backward and sideways.  It is paid in dollars, in anguish, and sometimes in death.  It is levied on six eight or ten persons for every problem gambler or addicted gambler.  They are forgotten, made expendable.

Who are the victims of predatory gambling?  Some observers see addicted and problem gamblers as victims themselves; others, as undeserving of pity. I consider problem gamblers victims and sufferers, but focus this essay on the peri-gambler victims.   They are always forgotten by legislative analysts.    Much more numerous than addicted and problem gamblers, they suffer more in the aggregate than the latter.

The  lurid stories above, all involving murder or negligence leading to death,  are among the most horrifying from the United States.  Click on the links it you are strong.  For each one like this, however, there are hundreds more that encompass other types of victimization related to the gambling market driven by government calls for more revenue (invariably “for education”) with “no new taxes.”  For example:

Not everyone who kills himself over gambling met the definition of       current  problem  gambler the day before the act. In the story here, from India in 2009, a 24 year old neophyte gambler  lost the meager savings he had set aside for his wife’s next childbirth http://preview.tinyurl.com/d92wfnt .  A near- suicide is  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=230336.  The gambler used his mother’s credit card to lose $10,000 on-line.  He was 9.

 

In short, government policy to make legalized gambling an ever-growing fount of revenues to itself exploits not only the gamblers, for whom not everyone has much sympathy, but also, in far greater numbers, many people around them for whom everyone must feel compassion.  Sympathy won’t come,  however, until their existence is acknowledged.  The gambling establishment and its supporters in government want to keep it a secret. Groups  like CAGNY and Stop Predatory Gambling have the challenge to shout about it.

“Mercy has a human heart and Pity a human face”   William  Blake, Songs of Innocence

The opinions in this essay are those of the writer, Stephen Q. Shafer MD MPH and do not necessarily reflect those of other members of CAGNY.  This post may be reproduced in part or in its entirety.  Please acknowledge the source using the permalink.

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