Losing hand: There are real fears about the impact of yet another potential vice becoming acceptable and easily accessible. *iStock photo
Losing hand: There are real fears about the impact of yet another potential vice becoming acceptable and easily accessible. *iStock photo

I was asked recently how I felt about the decision by the Government to scrap a promised referendum on gambling. 

I answered that there was no simple answer to this complex issue. 

On the one hand, I understand that paranoia is rife on this island, and that few of us are immune, so the fear that a referendum might be deliberately derailed is at least as believable as the fear that the island is being given away to foreigners — possibly more so, since the underground rumblings of sabotage and outright revolution continue to gain strength. 

On the same hand, as a parent, I understand that sometimes promises have to be broken due to more in-depth knowledge, changed circumstances, or even on occasions, better options. 

On the other hand, as one with some real fears about the impact of yet another potential vice becoming acceptable and easily accessible, the lost opportunity to voice those fears in a open forum as part of a public education initiative before a final reasoned decision is made, is saddening.

 Since I prefer to go down swinging, I am re-presenting an amended copy of a letter I submitted to the Cabinet Office in 2010, following the farce (my opinion) of a study produced by the self-acknowledged self-serving group brought in by the then Government. 

 “Despite the positive spin from the recent task force, the majority of the research shows (and my training and experience in addictions, and specifically in problematic or pathological gambling, concurs), that the populations most at risk of developing problem or pathological gambling issues in an environment where gambling is acceptable are disadvantaged minorities, the youth, the elderly, the mentally challenged and those who are dependent on drugs and/or alcohol.

Although Bermuda’s black population are in the majority, emotionally and psychologically, many of them have a minority world-view which makes them vulnerable. 

In other words, they often see themselves as victims of “the man” and “the system;” as being economically less well-off with a rapidly deteriorating financial status in the current economic climate. 

They tend to be frustrated and disgruntled, and often feel helpless and even hopeless, thus increasing the risk of developing problem or pathological gambling issues.

Many of Bermuda’s youth appear to feel disaffected, making them vulnerable to the development of problem or pathological gambling issues. 

Risk factors

Other high risk factors include a preponderance of families with a history of alcohol or other substance abuse, often coupled with physical abuse; low self-esteem; ADHD; boredom; a desire to escape; and a general lack of positive coping tools. 

In addition, Bermudian culture increasingly overemphasizes money, which is another risk factor for youth, who absorb such cultural values from an early age.

Bermuda’s elderly are, for the most part, on fixed incomes.  Recent government initiatives will have a significant impact on their disposable finances, thus increasing the likelihood that gambling could be seen as a way of augmenting the money in their pockets.  

In addition, such factors as loneliness, isolation, physical or mental illness also increase the risk of problem gambling among this segment of the population.

Bermuda has a growing population of individuals with mental health issues. 

Studies have shown that “individuals with concurrent psychiatric problems display much higher rates of disordered gambling than either adolescents or adults sampled from the general population.” 

They show, too, that there are “strong associations” between pathological gambling and depression. 

Disorders

High rates of disordered gambling associated with personality disorders such as obsessive-compulsive, avoidant, schizotypal and paranoid were also noted in the research.

Bermudian culture has revolved around alcohol almost since being colonized. Its wealth has definitely been built on the proceeds of alcohol (from the early rum-runners to our current scene, where there is no place of entertainment without a bar).  

Even now, when illicit drugs are gaining an increasingly strong hold on the younger population, alcohol remains the drug of choice for most Bermudians who indulge in any form of mood-altering substance.  

Study after study shows a strong correlation between problem drinking and problem gambling.  

Our recent (on-going?) problem with gangs and guns is reputed to be related to the drug trade, presently grossing revenues that are impossible to replicate except in the highest positions of power in the legitimate business world. 

Gambling is also known to generate revenues in the multi-million dollar brackets. It attracts criminal types, of which Bermuda already has more than enough.  

Those who consider the setting of controls over a population’s behaviours as the mark of a “nanny state” might want to consider that the following consequences impact the entire community. 

The probability of increased crime (theft, embezzlement, insurance fraud, stolen credit cards, check forgery, employee theft and fraud), increased school (lower grades, truancy); family problems (child and spousal abuse, neglect, domestic violence and child endangerment, as well as increased levels of tobacco, alcohol/drug use, and over-eating in children of pathological gamblers); increased legal and financial problems (bankruptcy, non-payment of bills and/or mortgages, etc); increased emotional problems (depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, plus increased “escape” behaviours) cannot be discounted or minimized by the sop of monies set aside from profits to pay for treatment — treatment which, by the way, does not yet exist on island. 

Such an approach reduces very real human tragedy and the destruction of a community into ciphers, throw-away figures, incidentals that are apparently much less important or less valuable than profits for a few. 

At the very least, if, in the face of all the negatives, gambling MUST come to this island, then let the entire population share in the profits, as the Native Americans do. Why should only a few reap the (dubious) benefits? 

*The headline was changed from 'I am against casino gambling' to the current head and subheadline.