Nagin’s Neurosis

Written by Drew on October 12th, 2005

When New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina, reporters and pundits pointed out that the disaster exposed serious problems that before had flown below America’s societal radar. Number one on the list was poverty. While the majority of middle- to high-income citizens escaped the floodwaters, the poor did not get out in time. They had no transportation and were not prepared. Tragically, many of them died.

Katrina also exposed the city’s cruelty. Truly, New Orleans is “sin city.” Not only does it reach heights of debauchery during Mardi Gras, but it also turns a deaf ear when its own people need help. Instead of seeing the resilience of New Yorkers during the 9/11 attacks, we witnessed looting, hate, and selfishness in the Big Easy.

Now that recovery efforts are underway, Mayor Ray Nagin says, “Now is the time for us to think out of the box. Now is the time for some bold leadership, some decisive leadership.” Sounds good. What will be the mayor’s first step in revitalizing his lost city? He proposes Las Vegas style gambling. In Nagin’s mind, the best way to bring dollars to New Orleans is more sin.

Speaking from a strictly pragmatic point of view, gambling is not the answer to poverty. Riverboat gambling, video poker, slot machines at the race tracks and a land based casino in New Orleans have been in operation in Louisiana since the early 90’s, but the economy has remained on a downward slide.

Experiments in various places in the U.S. have demonstrated legalized gambling’s detrimental effects on the poor. In Maryland, almost half of the state’s heavy gamblers come from households earning less than $20,000 a year. In Viriginia, 40 percent of heavy gamblers (people who spend more than $1,200 a year) have household incomes of less than $25,000. Another 17 percent of “heavy” players have annual incomes of less than $15,000. In New Mexico, three of the poorest counties ranked among the top-10 best selling for lottery tickets in 1996. In California four out of every 10 gamblers are unemployed (numbers reported by the Christian Coalition of Alabama). Charles Colson summed it up saying, “[Legalized gambling] is the sale of an illusion to poor people who view it as the only possibility for breaking out of the cycle of poverty they live in” (“The Myth of the Money Tree,” Christianity Today, July 10, 1987, 64).

Ray Nagin ought to try legitimate industry in his city, something wholesome for a change. According to Solomon, “Righteousness exalts a nation” (Prov. 14:34). A little “exaltation” wouldn’t hurt anyone, especially in New Orleans.


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