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Losers pay for Vikings stadium

You may have missed the big announcement in September: the Minnesota Gambling Control Board voted to approve electronic pull-tab and bingo machines. At the last minute the Minnesota legislature authorized electronic gambling to help pay the state's share ($348 million) of the proposed new Vikings stadium that is expected to cost $975 million. Minnesota is the first state in the union to authorize electronic pull-tabs. If a new stadium had not been authorized, the Vikings would have pulled up stakes and left Minnesota in the dust. While I'm pleased that we have saved the Vikings for Minnesota and North Dakota football fans, I'm disappointed that losers will have to pay for the privilege.

Have you ever attended a counseling meeting for compulsive gamblers? I have. The compulsive gamblers sit in a circle with family members or supporters at their sides. Each one says, "Hello, my name is Freddy and I'm a compulsive gambler." The group says, "Hi Freddy." Then the gambler mumbles a few words of excuse, apology or explanation about how he or she got there. Following that, the supporters are invited to comment briefly. What did the compulsive gamblers have in common? First, they were all losers. They didn't beat the odds, the odds beat them. Second, they had all lost more money than they or their families could afford. Third, they were all really hurting. Fourth, they were all in the grip of a powerful habit or disease or compulsion -- whatever it is.

I hate to see Minnesota leading the nation in finding new ways for the losers to lose faster than before.

We've all heard of Caesar's Palace. Caesar's is a luxury casino-hotel in Las Vegas. The hotel has 3,960 rooms and six towers. The tallest tower is 46 stories high. One of the towers has a 4,296 seat conference center called the Coliseum. The convention center covers over 300,000 square feet. The Palace has hosted stars like Frank Sinatra, Celine Dion and Elton John. They have had championship boxing matches and even NHL Hockey. And of course, they host the World Series of Poker. Who has paid for this world famous monument to legal stealing? Not Caesar, but Caesar's armies -- the losers. Early investment money came from organized crime (does that tell you something about the nature of the gambling industry?), but payments were made by the thousands of losers who willingly rushed in to beat the odds all hours of every day and night.

The system is designed to produce losers. The chances of winning the lottery, for example, are 1 in millions. Not that those few who win the lottery are actually winners. Some of their stories bring tears to your eyes: one who started as a garbageman, then blew his winnings in five years of cocaine, parties, hookers and cars, then ended up with nothing, hoping to get his old job back. Another "winner" bought a ranch, six homes, a fleet of cars, then followed with a divorce and finally, suicide. Others suffered loss of child custody, suits by relatives and by "partners" to split the pot, and these four also finished worse then they started: one on food stamps, one flipping burgers at McDonalds, one in bankruptcy, and one living in a trailer park.

The lottery proves that the easier it is to understand the game, the longer the odds are against winning. The chances of winning a slot machine jackpot are 1 in 262,144. But even betting on small payouts on slot machines or pull-tabs, the house is the winner. The odds are always against the player.

Can you beat the odds? There is an online ad for a Wizard of Odds who claims if you take lessons from him, you will be a smarter gambler. In an industry where cheating, hot tips and gimmicks are common, I call the Wizard's classroom the School for Losers.

It is believed that a gambling addiction can change brain chemistry. What keeps the compulsive gamblers in the game is the belief that the homerun is just one or two pitches away. And the winning can be even quicker online. Online, you don't even have to leave home and sit in a smoky casino to lose. That's why, as research has shown, 75 percent of the folks who gamble online are problem or pathological gamblers.

Once a gambler crosses a line into compulsive gambling, he's hooked. He keeps gambling whether he's "up" or "down" (winning or losing) whether he's broke or flush, happy or depressed, and even when he understands the odds are against him and when he can't afford to lose -- he can't "stay off the bet."

Over $335 billion was spent on legal gambling in the U.S. in 2009. Just think what that money could do for some constructive purpose. But somebody has to pay for the bright lights, the garish casinos and excess profits, and it's the folks who can least afford it -- the losers. I'm sorry Minnesota is so eager to tax the poor.