Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gaming Centers Take from the Poorest

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gaming Centers Take from the Poorest

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

It's troubling that scores of veterans may suffer because of a few people who, according to authorities, exploited their cause to support their greed.

But what's also worrisome is the extent to which Florida has allowed the proliferation of gaming centers and other operations that make money through exploiting the weaknesses of its most vulnerable citizens.

Recently, politicians have been rushing to unload campaign cash they received from Allied Veterans of the World. According to an analysis by the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald, the veterans charity, which had operated gaming centers in strip centers in some of the state's economically sparse areas, gave more than $1.4 million to state lawmakers and political organizations.

IGNORANCE NO EXCUSE

But law enforcement officials say that only 2 percent of the nearly $300 million raised through the gaming centers actually went to help veterans. Most was pocketed by leaders of the charity.

Now these lawmakers who took the money may not have known that Allied Veterans was doing anything illegal, but surely they had a clue that the centers were operating on the edges of the law.

They also should have known - and cared - that many of the centers were operating in low-income areas where people need more ways to make money rather than more ways to lose it.

The last part is what irks Les Bernal, national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a nonprofit that is against government-sanctioned gambling.

"These were essentially mini-casinos in Florida," Bernal told me. "It's a reflection of how out of control our society has become when it comes to predatory gambling."

Bernal isn't alone in that assessment.

In 1999, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that "convenience gambling, such as electronic devices in neighborhood outlets, provides fewer economic benefits and creates potentially greater social costs by making gambling more available and accessible . …

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