By Sam Murrell
Former Executive Director, Casino Watch, inc.

As the oldest of four children growing up in central Florida, I remember Christmas as a time of tremendous uncertainty. Most children have some uncertainty regarding Christmas because they wonder if they will get what they requested from jolly ole Saint Nick. My uncertainty, however, was associated with whether I would get anything for Christmas. No, I wasn’t such a bad child that I had no right to expect anything from the jolly old elf. And no, my uncertainty was not due to my step-father being unemployed. Actually, he had a pretty good job in the construction industry. My uncertainty came from the fact that my step-father loved to gamble.

He played cards, he rolled dice, he bet on the outcome of sporting events, he even bet on our German Shepherd in dog fights. Bills regularly went unpaid. There were weeks when he walked through the door on Friday evening having lost his whole paycheck between the time he got off work and the time he arrived home. Eventually, we were evicted from our home due to falling behind in payments. These were all part of the natural consequences of living with a gambler. His choices affected our family’s economic reality every day of the year. But somehow the way his gambling affected Christmas is what I remember most. Gambling is much more than harmless entertainment. Gambling, among other things, steals a child’s Christmas.

Christmas is a time for celebrating the birth of Jesus, but for children in our culture it has also become magical time. A time for dreaming the impossible. A time for hoping against hope. A time when a child dares to believe that his dreams could actually come true. Unfortunately, for many children across this great nation of ours, it has become a time of shattered dreams, and empty promises. Many of those shattered dreams and broken promises are directly related the plague of casino activity which sweeping our nation.

I have worked with children and hurting people since my final year in graduate school, 1985. I spent 8 years in the pastorate, two years in the field of education and I have another ten years experience in social services working with the homeless, abused children, counseling troubled youth, and providing outpatient therapy to adults with various addictions and mental health diagnoses. When I was asked to consider becoming the Executive Director of Casino Watch I leaped at the opportunity to focus my energies on stopping the spread of casinos. An industry which, by its own admission, “…doesn’t create anything… It offers entertainment and leisure…but it doesn’t create anything in the long run”. (The Luck Business , Robert Goodman, page 15. The quote is from a Casino Developer.) What casinos do create that does have a lasting affect on our communities are divorces, bankruptcies, depression, increase in criminal activity, increase in suicide attempts and an increase in youth gamblers, to name a few. Is this what you want in your community? I have seen, first hand, the devastation problem gambling can have on a family. The supposed economic benefits of casinos pale in comparison when placed along side the devastating social impact that these life sucking neon leeches have on a community. It’s the equivalent of social strip mining.