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It’s a Sucker Bet : With proper state controls lacking, voters should reject local card clubs

With a three-year state moratorium on new card clubs approaching, gambling proponents are campaigning hard to bring their version of “economic relief” to more than a dozen cash-strapped cities. Voter, beware.

Gaming interests promote the clubs as a sure way to prosperity; wasn’t Las Vegas just a dusty desert town? But these proposals could turn sour for struggling localities--a can’t-lose wager that turns out to be a sucker bet.

Beginning today and over the next two months, the Southern California cities of Azusa, Colton, Coachella, Hawaiian Gardens, Hesperia, Lynwood, Ontario, Palm Springs, Perris and Pomona will vote on whether to authorize card clubs before the moratorium starts Dec. 31. A Palm Springs developer says that if the measure passes there, he will launch a signature campaign to put legalization of Vegas-style casino gambling on next November’s state ballot.

There are no conclusive scientific findings on the social and economic consequences of large-scale gambling, but the problems associated with it are evident. Gambling can be a magnet for crimes like extortion, loan-sharking and money laundering. Even clean operations can damage society by feeding the destructive behavior of gambling addicts.

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Republican Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, Assemblyman Phillip Isenberg (D-Sacramento) and state Sen. Quentin L. Kopp (I-San Francisco) pushed hard but unsuccessfully this year for a state gambling commission to license card clubs and for establishment of an enforcement arm within the state Department of Justice.

There are calls in Congress for a study of gambling to decide whether a federal regulatory role is warranted. Congress should approve one. California, faced with the prospect of new card clubs in a number of cities, should revive and implement the comprehensive regulatory strategy that was rejected this year. Without proper state control and without adequate information on gambling’s effects, voters should just say no. Based on the cards showing, it’s a bad hand.


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