Gambling: It's Coming to Vidalia

by Rev. Joe Hoover

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Nestled against the Mississippi River, Vidalia, Louisiana is a community of approximately 4,000 adults. For two consecutive years, they have recognized Vidalia as a "clean city" for a town of its size. The schools, businesses, and the community have been a safe place to settle and raise a family.

The City of Vidalia has received recognition for its pursuit of economic development to bring jobs to its people. One large company has already begun to hire people from our area for a distribution center with even more jobs in the future. The picture is looking bright for our citizens.

Unfortunately, a shadow is hanging over the people of Vidalia. Across the bridge in Natchez, Mississippi they docked a barge, built to look like an old river steamboat, on the banks of this navigable waterway. This barge casino has become an attractive, yet dangerous, center of activity.

Many convenience stores in Louisiana, including Vidalia, have started selling lottery tickets and games of chance. People learned to buy these tickets regularly. Emotions increased when several jackpots won were considerable amounts of money. Everyone, it seems, wanted to be a winner. However, enough people have to lose both to pay the lottery winners and to give the investors in the game machines their profits.

The darkness had only begun to dim the eyes of the average, moral, Christian person of our community. Then into the floodgate of instant winners, they introduced hoards of video poker machines into what was supposed to be a truck stop. Now, many bars, restaurants, and gas stations have also become places where gaming activity is influencing people to try their luck. These machines have a computer control that allows people to win just enough to keep them playing. This guarantees that the owners of the poker machines will continue to take in more money than they pay out in winnings.

Twenty years ago, an adult would have to travel to Las Vegas, Nevada to experience the temptation of games of chance. Even when people had to travel that far, an illness became the ugly, degrading by-product of what some people call "entertainment." It was estimated that out of 100 adults who would try gambling, 4% would become addictive or compulsive gamblers. "This is a small number of people compared to the thousands who would try their luck," became the cry of those supporting gambling. Even the gaming industry has indicated that there will be those who cannot handle the thrill and will fall prey to this illness.

Today, the danger of becoming addicted has increased significantly. With access to lotteries, video poker at every corner, and a riverboat casino within driving distance, the percentage will increase. In fact, the National Council on Gambling, because of the increase in the availability of gaming activities within easy access of our adult population, has estimated the percentage of adults who become compulsive gamblers will rise to 10%.

What does this mean to Vidalia? If 10% of the adults in Vidalia would become compulsive gamblers, we would have 400 adults needing help with their addiction. A general description of a compulsive gambler shows a young male, under 30, who has $85,000 worth of debt. If only half of the adults, 200, would have that much debt, our two local banks could not survive. Many businesses would go bankrupt and many families would lose their homes.

The most frightening thing, though, is the rate of suicide among compulsive gamblers. Ninety percent of all compulsive gamblers consider suicide. Twenty percent will carry it out. Our town could lose 80 people to suicide. If this isn't bad enough, another 10 percent of the spouses of these compulsive gamblers are likely to attempt suicide.

Even if the gaming industry takes the responsibility to screen out those having a problem with gambling, it's like expecting a wolf to watch the chickens after the wolf has not been allowed to eat for three days!

Vidalia will not see the light that seems so bright if we continue to let gambling control our entertainment, our lives, our community. The shadow is hanging over us. It may be time to fall on our knees and pray. (II Chronicles 7:14).

[Note: At the time of writing, Rev. Hoover pastored the United Methodist Church in Vidalia, Louisiana.]

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume IV, Part 5, May 1996.

Copyright 1999 Joe Hoover. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.