Photo credit: Conor Ogle (CC By 2.0)
Photo credit: Conor Ogle (CC By 2.0)

Growing up in Glidden, Iowa, and working on our family farm, gambling occurred far from home. Things have changed a lot since then –not only near my hometown, but all across our great state of Iowa.

In the past 31 years, Iowans have gone from legalizing betting on horse races to becoming home to 18 casinos, three tribal casinos, 2,400 lottery outlets and issued 3,350 charitable or social gambling licenses.  With over 36, 000 slot machines located across Iowa, it’s hard not to see the social effects of gambling hit close to home.

The newest casino, in Jefferson, Iowa, takes valuable Iowa soil and places a casino on it. America (and the world) depends on Iowa farmers, the soil and the food grown from the soil. Turning Iowa soil into a casino is a waste of a God-given gift.

Iowa isn’t alone in this quest for so-called “free money” promised by gambling.  According to the Institute for American Values, “[I]n 1978, outside of Nevada, there were virtually no legal slot machines in the United States.  In 1991, there were about 184,000.  By 2010, there were about 947,000, a more than five-fold increase in less than two decades.”

Casinos make their money off of “problem gamblers”, who according to studies, contribute nearly 48% of all casino revenue.  “Convenience gambling” or the ability of a problem gambler to lose money close to home, comes with a hefty cost, both to the family of the gambler (who often suffer and lose in silence) but also to the local governments who must handle the criminal prosecutions that result when problem gamblers resort to crime as a method of financing their addition.  Robert Goodman, author of The Luck Business,” writes that “each problem gambler costs society from $13,000 to $52,000 per year.”   The real face of gambling addiction unfolds each day in our court systems where families and wealth are both quietly dissolved as a result of compulsive gambling.

What is the effect of the expansion of gambling? A 2011 report issued by the Iowa Department of Public Health found that, “14.5% of adult Iowans reported experiencing at least one symptom associated with problem gambling in their lifetime and 12.1% reported at least one symptom during the past 12 months.”   Iowans are already paying a hefty price for this rapid expansion of gambling.

Whether or not you gamble doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that gambling is ever-present and it’s one of the issues that once were far away but now are here at home.

As a political activist, a mother of four young children, and a Century Family Farmer, I don’t want us to gamble away Iowa’s future. That’s why we’ve formed an organization, ICAGE (Iowa Conservatives Against Gambling Expansion), to draw attention to the problems associated with more gambling and to keep an eye on politicians who promise one thing and do another.

Honestly, it’s our job as citizens and parents to educate candidates to the problems associated with gambling and to learn and publicize their position on this very important and rapidly expanding issue.

What are we looking to learn when we visit with presidential candidates?

For starters, efforts are underway in at least 10 states to legalize online or “Internet” gambling.  Internet gambling would allow games of chance into nearly every Iowa living room and would, overnight, turn a Smart phone, tablet or home computer into a slot machine. As a mother, this worries me. My children are not allowed to use wifi on their tablets, but what about other parents? How can it be monitored and controlled?

Legalizing this type of gambling has already occurred in three states and opposition to this unites liberals and conservatives. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was right on the money when he said that Internet Gambling “[i]s a bad idea at a bad time, and putting a stop to it should be supported by both Republicans and Democrats.”  ICAGE will find out how many candidates for President agree with that position.

Another major gambling expansion effort is pending right now in Wisconsin and it would mark a seismic shift in the gambling debate.  Specifically, the Menominee Tribe of Native Americans has sought and won approval from the federal government to open an off-tribal land mega-casino in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Today, the only thing stopping one of the largest casinos in the Midwest is the signature of Governor Walker.  “Candidate for Governor, Walker” promised he wouldn’t expand gambling in Wisconsin.  Conservatives like those of us involved in ICAGE will be keeping an eye on whether Governor Walker’s actions match his words.

We’re in a unique position to visit with all of the presidential candidates who will visit Iowa and ICAGE plans on talking candidly with each of them about gambling and educating our fellow citizens about where each Presidential candidate stands on these issues.   We can’t afford to gamble away this opportunity as well as our children’s futures.

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