Gambling raids signal progress

As recently reported by The Commercial, a task force comprised of state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies staged raids at a dozen video arcades in and around Pine Bluff. The raids also included warrants being served at two residential locations in Hot Springs and Little Rock.

According to Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department Major Lafayette Woods Jr., a total of 10 teams from the sheriff’s department and five from the Pine Bluff Police Department were involved. Among the locations where the warrants were served was the Taj Mahal in the Jefferson Square Shopping Center, Cherry’s on East Harding Avenue, Fun Time Arcade on Ohio Street, Lucky’s on West 28th Avenue, Cyber-Zone Internet Cafe on West Third Avenue and a building formerly occupied by the Fragrance Center at 2828 Market Street.

While no one would likely argue that the alleged gambling said to occur at these establishments eclipses many of the other ills besieging our community, that kind of activity does little to help us become the place we ought to be.

While they provided entertainment for many people and employment for a few, there are many other less dubious paths to those same ends. What’s worse, several of the arcades apparently have out-of-town owners. Like so many other bad local habits, we don’t need one more outward bound revenue funnel.

Of course the owners will likely protest. Predictably, they will cast the arcades as the harmless refuge of otherwise bored grandmothers — safe environs for a little distraction. Members of the local government bodies saw it differently. As reported, Woods said the impetus for the investigation and warrants came after Sheriff Gerald Robinson received a number of phone calls from members of the public, members of the Pine Bluff City Council and Jefferson County Quorum Court members.

Woods went on to clarify: “They were complaining about the traffic particularly, and the fact that some of them appeared to be operating 24 hours a day. These kind of businesses affect families because some people will spend their last dime trying to win a few dollars.”

Research appears to support Woods’ contention. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission finds that pathological gambling often occurs in conjunction with other behavioral problems, including substance abuse, mood disorders and personality disorders. Research also suggests the earlier a person begins to gamble, the more likely they are to become a pathological gambler.

Combine this with the fact that the presence of a gambling facility within 50 miles roughly doubles the chance of problem and pathological gambling and we’ve got the makings of a real danger for our community. To back this up, in a national prevalence study conducted by NGIS, researchers found that 3 million U.S. adults are problem gamblers and 2.5 million adults are pathological gamblers — with another 15 million being at risk.

While it’s doubtful that anybody was losing “the farm” at the alleged local gambling houses, there’s no real way of knowing. What we do know for certain is that the presence of these businesses certainly increases the “odds” of it happening.

Oh, and if the allegations are true, the use of these machines was illegal. Really, do we need to know more than that?

As above, this likely will not go down as a great turning point in our city, but it does represent one more small stand for positive growth, not just growth at any cost.