Gambling issue is about personal freedom

Monday, July 12, 2004

Each year, tens of thousands of Nebraskans visit casinos in other states. Las Vegas is a favored destination, but in recent years an increasing number of Nebraskans have chosen to visit the casinos closer to home, including those in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota and Colorado.

Somehow, while debating the effect of legalized gambling on taxes and the problems caused by gambling addiction, this large segment of Nebraska's adult population has been ignored.

These are occasional visitors to casinos -- who spend time playing the slots and seeing the shows during vacations, conventions and weekend trips.

For the vast majority, these excursions are a lot of fun. After returning to their Nebraska homes, the casino visitors recount stories of how much they won or lost, going into detail about the machines they played and the jackpots they hit.

For most, this is not a problem, it's a highlight ... a playful diversion from the responsible, work-filled world.

The opponents of legalized gambling in Nebraska -- most notably the editorial writers of the Omaha World-Herald, U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne and State Sen. Ernie Chambers -- are all good people with the best of intentions.

But, in their attempt to uphold moral principles, they would deny tens of thousands -- possibly even hundreds of thousands -- of Nebraskans the excitement of occasional gambling outings.

We're talking about our friends, our neighbors and our guests ... upstanding citizens who, from time-to-time, like to take a break from the daily hum-drum.

It's true that some will get hooked on gambling, although the problem will not be nearly as severe as gambling opponents would like us to believe. After all, many of Nebraska's people are already next door to the gambling houses in Council Bluffs, Rosebud and Sioux City, and the vast majority of them have not become habitual gamblers.

Why have gambling opponents fought so hard to keep gambling proposals off the ballot? Because they know that a large number of people want the same opportunity in Nebraska to enjoy casinos as they have in a number of other states, including five of Nebraska's neighbors: Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota and Colorado.

The gambling issue is not about taxes, although Nebraska should capitalize on the opportunity to generate additional state funding. No, the gambling issue is really about personal freedom ... the right to enjoy games of chance at close-to-home locations. The time has come. Finally, Nebraskans have the chance to vote on gambling. It's a good bet they will vote yes.

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