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Gambling with the future of our region

If theres one common denominator between North Dakota and Minnesota today, its that both states are looking very hard at the ways in which they fund state programs. From schools to welfare programs, it seems like everything has been placed under the microscope while one state (North Dakota) deals with a surplus and another (Minnesota) continues to dig out from four years of reckless spending after a Hollywood governor.

The other thing that the two states seem to have in common is a propensity to look toward gambling as a new source of income. Buzzwords like Internet gambling, Race-inos and consolidated tribe-operated casinos have stolen headlines on both sides of the Red River of the North.

In North Dakota, the good people of our state legislature, who have done some eyebrow-raising things throughout the 2005 session, have decided to turn away from the gambling monster this time around, after approving the statewide entry into the Powerball Lottery last session. Internet gambling, which would have had the ability to raise the state millions of dollars in the long run, was given the eventual boot.

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has hopped on board with the idea of a consolidated tribes casino in the Twin Cities. Tribes from Mahnomens White Earth Indian Reservation, Red Lakes population, and others have said the idea of operating casinos on their own land is great, but to reach the endless swarm of cars on major thoroughfares like I-35, I-94 and others is too tempting. While they watch casinos like Mystic Lake rake in profits from metro-area residents, casinos in rural areas are struggling in comparison.

The state of Minnesota, of course, would benefit from such an agreement. Pawlenty has put his sights on more than $100 million to get the operation started, and the tribes would of course be obligated to take over programs currently using state money, saving the state some dough in the end.

I have to say that its a slippery slope. Ive been known to put a buck or two down in the name of fun, say on the Super Bowl or the current soup de jour, March Madness. However, both states need to take a good look at what theyre doing to cover their rear-end when it comes to dealing with allowing more in terms of gambling.

Like alcoholism, gambling can, and does, become a disease. And, like other diseases, it is preventable. Where both states seem to fault is in terms of treating this disease. Instead of trying to prevent it, taking a proactive stance, both states choose to use a reactive standpoint, throwing money at treating the problem once its already started.

Both states, according to such establishments as Lutheran Social Services and others, could save a ton of money in the end if they chose to be more proactive, recognizing the problem before it starts. While beer and alcohol companies have hopped on board, telling people to use their product responsibly, no one is teaching young people, especially those in the 18-24 age group, how to gamble responsibly.

Poker is all the rage. Hopping on a bus and heading to a casino for a night of fun has been a great co-ed activity since I was in college. But, it can be very dangerous, as students lose hundreds of dollars they dont have at poker tables and in slot machines.

Sure, its a nice way to raise a couple of bucks for Native American communities that are in need of some assistance. Evidently weve come to terms with that. But I take issue with the fact that some state elected officials are O.K. with putting state programs in the hands of gambling revenues.

Wait, you might say, dont I remember you ravaging the state for not picking up on the lottery sooner? Saying that South Dakota hit the jackpot when it hopped on board?

Yes, you might remember that. But its a lot easier to abuse an Internet poker account legalized by the state, or an electric slot machine that can take credit, than it is to abuse scratch tickets. Again, Lutheran Social Services and other groups will tell you the same thing.

I dont want to see a school opening reliant on gambling revenue. Sure, were a long way from that point. But once you start with this, where does it stop?