The "quasi-legal" gambling proposed by Bill 29-35 is a very bad idea.
I view the introduction of the bill as a trial balloon to take the community's temperature for the possibility of full-on legal casino gambling as our politicians view Saipan's casino with envious eyes.
Gambling places an excessively heavy tax on the members of our community least able to afford the cost: Those trapped in low-level service jobs struggling to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck, which is about 60 percent of Guam's employees.
I am old enough to remember the financial carnage inflicted on Guam during the poker machine craze that hit Guam in the 1970s. I remember watching a woman beg for police to arrest her husband because he was in gambling away his entire paycheck, and the family had no food in the house, the power was turned off and the family was facing eviction.
I lived in Reno, Nevada, for seven years and saw firsthand the carnage legal gambling inflicts on people struggling financially who are looking for a way to get ahead on their bills. I remember the shock I felt when a person I knew committed suicide after losing all his money in a casino. I remember the feeling of disappointment I felt when a neighbor stole and pawned my wife's guitar to get more money for gambling.
The victims of gambling
The majority of gambling victims in gambling cities like Reno and Las Vegas are visitors. That fact is the balm that soothes the conscience of local government officials, who point out that a majority of gambling money comes from the residents of other cities and states; while only sharing among themselves the knowledge that most of the cost of the gambling carnage is inflicted on the social service networks of those other cities and states. They take personal comfort knowing the local financial carnage is more than offset by well-funded – via strong gambling taxes and collections – local social service networks.
In Guam's case, the majority of those attending a Liberation carnival casino will be local residents. The financial damage will be done to local families and their community. Local social service networks that deal with the financial challenges inflicted on the local community are nonexistent. Those facts make any form of legal gambling on Guam a bad idea.
If the main justification for legalizing gambling is the government does not have the financial resources to pay the expenses of an annual one-day parade celebrating the liberation of Guam, where will the government get the money to pay for 365 days a year of financial and social carnage inflicted on the families and their communities by legal gambling? The social carnage that will be inflicted on the people of Guam by legalizing gambling will cost many times more than the cost of funding the Liberation Day parade.
If the local government has such a hard time collecting income taxes, real estate taxes, hotel occupancy taxes and tobacco taxes, and is running a $100 million deficit on operations, why do we think the government will be any better at collecting casino or "games of chance" taxes?
A better strategy
Maybe a better strategy would be for the administration to pull out all the stops to collect all the business, income, property, hotel and cigarette taxes first. If the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio administration will be as successful as they predicted during the campaigns, the government should be able to pay all the expenses for the Liberation Day parade without having to impose the severe financial and social consequences of legal gambling on a community where most of the people are already living from paycheck to paycheck.
Legalizing any form of gambling will inflict heavy financial and social costs on our community. It's a fact made clear by the fact Bill 29 justifies itself as a way to raise money to pay the cost of a one-day parade the government can't afford.
Ken Leon-Guerrero is the spokesman for Guam Citizens for Public Accountability. He can be contacted at www.guamc4pa.org.