Last week, your own Man Overboard! (in his alternate identity as a mild-mannered reporter) wrote about a shortage of clean needles among Philly drug users — thanks in part to a dearth of resources at Prevention Point, the city’s only sanctioned syringe-exchange program and, more generally, to widespread objection to such programs, embodied by a ban on federal funding for them.
From a public-health standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense: Syringe exchanges have been shown to effectively reduce the spread of HIV and other diseases. But the hurdle is, for many, at gut level: Whatever the studies say, there are many Americans (and Philadelphians) who feel it’s not right to give addicts the tools that enable them to use — except, that is, when it comes to another risky behavior.
Take, for example, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, whose “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO” campaign recently included a “love letter” about SugarHouse Casino: “Dear Winning Streak, Is it hot in here or is it just you?” accompanied by a photo of a man and two women, all three Asian, at a Pai Gow table. In an email blast to its supporters, Casino Free Philadelphia — which holds that casinos are predatory — asked: “Is this how Philadelphia should be represented?”
The answer, at least among city officials, seems to be a resounding “Sure!” When a second casino license was re-awarded to Philly in July, Mayor Nutter, who first ran as an opponent of casinos, told the Inquirer that “keeping that license in Philadelphia has been our top priority.” City Council President Darrell Clarke — in whose district developer Bart Blatstein wants to build a casino — wrote a pro-casino op-ed in the Inquirer, saying “the wisest bet for the state’s next casino is right here.” The justification boils down to the revenue casinos “generate” (the word, as the Daily News opinion page recently noted, somewhat belies the $13 billion Pennsylvania gamblers have lost so far).
But beneath the money is evidence that so-called problem gambling may not be a rare exception in the modern “convenience casino” but the very basis of its profit, and evidence — highlighted on This American Life — that casinos actively target problem gamblers. These findings raise serious questions about whether casinos are really an entertainment industry or something much darker. Our local leaders don’t show much interest in the answer. It’s strange: We’re terrified of enabling one addict, but we’ll risk building a palace for another.
Enable Man Overboard’s columnizing addiction at email@example.com.