Greetings, I live pretty far from Morgantown, in Philadelphia, where we let casinos set up shop years ago. Philly has some big problems, and the casinos aren’t the thing that’s hurting us the most. But they’re sure not helping much.

It was distressing to see these predatory businesses now trying to pull money from our more rural neighbors, and worse to see the reasoning advanced by township leaders, such as Allen Styer III, chairman of the Caernarvon Township Board of Supervisors.

In a recent interview, Styer mocked casino opponents as doomsayers: “I don’t foresee any additional human trafficking or murder-for-hire in our town,” he quipped, after voting to allow Penn National’s plan for an 86,000-square-foot building full of slot machines, poker tables and bars.

Mr. Styer is half-right. Casino gambling probably won’t spark lots of lurid, high-profile crimes on his watch, just as it hasn’t in Philadelphia, for the most part. But he’s not being honest about the damage that casinos can cause, small defeats that don't make the headlines.

These tragedies are a lot quieter, and slower-paced, and easy to miss against the neon and the quick payouts to local government officials trying to dodge tough choices around taxes and balancing budgets and building real economies.

Let’s say plainly where those projected millions will come from — from the people Penn National delicately calls “their market.” Let’s call them what they really are — losers. The revenues from gambling depend on fathers and mothers and sons and daughters losing part, or all, of their paychecks, their savings, their pensions inside those noisy, neon-lit showplaces.

And it’s not just money that’s lost — it’s what else those dollars could have bought. What is the sound of a bicycle not purchased for your kid’s birthday because Daddy poured it into the slots? How do you count the school books missed, the trips not taken, the corners cut at home so that the gambler of the family could head back to the tables one more time?

Gambling doesn’t just wreck household budgets. A casino habit can destroy entire businesses when a trusted bookkeeper or even a principal in the business can’t control compulsive gambling and spends the capital they were entrusted with.

These are shameful stories, often kept quiet, but they’re real. The perpetrators didn’t steal to buy fancy cars or go on vacations or drape themselves in diamonds. Hooked on gambling, they are flat-broke when they’re caught because they flushed all the money away in the closest casino. The science of addiction shapes everything about what we encounter inside casinos, and the gamblng bosses' success depends on lots of us finding it impossible to resist.

As a small business owner, I can tell you that casino regulars are lousy customers. They love looking and checking price tags, but they’ve got no ready cash — they gambled it all away. A lot of them are nice people. Sure, someday, they assure me, they’ll hit the big one and be back to get those bikes for their kids. Sure you will, I say, and shake their hands. “See you soon.”

Morgantown will be a better place without a gambling hall, and your leaders know it, no matter what they say. They need to find the courage to reach out and join hands with their neighbors to keep not just their own folks safe, but those across the the county line as well.

—Michael McGettigan


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