Next month the largest slots casino in Maryland will open in Hanover, south of Baltimore. The $500 million venture promises world-class gaming surrounded by new restaurants and a live music venue for star entertainers. Can Virginia be far behind? A bill to permit riverboat gambling was defeated years ago in the General Assembly. One gaming barge was projected in the James off the 4-H Camp, perilously close to Jamestown. We have pari-mutuel betting for horse racing and video poker at nearby Colonial Downs. A full-blown casino would transform the track into a “racino” with slot machines, blackjack and roulette. If contiguous states like Maryland embrace casinos, Virginia runs the risk of losing gaming revenue over the state line.* West Virginia already has racinos, and North Carolina has one casino so far. Contiguous gaming was one argument in the 1980s for justifying the Virginia Lottery. The other was that it would save education by infusing hundreds of millions to shape up our schools. We all know how well that worked out. The case for casinos is packed inside a larger argument for “entertainment venues” and “vacation destinations,” thereby elevating the issue to that of tourism. Hundreds of new jobs would be generated, albeit in the low-end service sector. Box office singers at a casino would be a vital new gig for our tourism. I sought out our local zealot for casinos, John Whitley, a learning specialist and political activist. He envisions a “World Heritage Casino” floating out in the James River off Kingsmill. As it happens, Xanterra is planning a significant wharf on the shore of its new 200-room hotel, so at least there would be a dock. But riverboat gambling is inconsistent inside a gated community like Kingsmill. Whitley holds firmly to his letter to the editor of 2010: “A casino has the ability to make a significant difference in our economy by maximizing our existing hospitality and entertainment industries.” He concedes Colonial Downs as the logical start but prefers it closer to Williamsburg. Whitley argues that the vast sums of income are so great that a casino license could be held hostage to infrastructure improvements for our roads. “Another transportation possibility is for light rail or some enhanced rail system to come from Richmond to Williamsburg down the middle of Interstate 64, paid for by the casino partners.” Vacation destinations are logical venues for casinos, for example New Orleans. Yet way up in Maine, Bangor has a racino, suggesting size doesn’t matter. State legislation is required to enact racinos and casinos, fixed or floating. Talk over the years has led to the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Indians on the Middle Peninsula. Their reservations are exempt from state control as sovereign nations, but not when it comes to gaming. More important, they would need federal recognition to develop and operate casinos. Anyway their remote location won’t help our tourism. The closest Indian casino is Harrah’s Cherokee, near Asheville, the only casino in North Carolina. Among other things, it has a hotel with 1,108 rooms, exactly what we don’t need. There’s a genuine moral issue as to encouraging gambling in the first place, especially in these economic times. Anyone associated with Gamblers Anonymous would object strenuously, and for good reason (see box). Legalizing gaming is analogous to legalizing marijuana, as a slippery slope to something worse. Any legislation would have to undergo rigorous analysis for the social costs of treating addiction (see box) and the economic value of the jobs created. Whitley responds with a play on words. “Colonial Williamsburg taverns were places where gambols prevailed. Casinos are consistent with our heritage.” ADDICTION “Slots are more addictive than any other form of casino gambling,” according to Bob Cabaniss, founder of the Williamsville Wellness Center in Hanover, which treats recovering gamblers. That’s because any addiction thrives on three factors: access, speed, and illusion, “or with slots delusion.” Alcohol is the classic addiction but slots are equally insidious. “You have ready access in a casino, and the speed of the spinning wheels deludes you into one more turn. You come so close to winning that you just keep going.” Cabaniss said lotteries are less addictive because there are only two drawings a week in Virginia and people realize the odds are low. He’s worried about the next big thing. “It’s the worst nightmare you can imagine if they legalize Internet slot machines.” More – Williamsville Wellness Center at 804 559-9959 is said to be the only licensed residential treatment center in the nation for gambling. Also try nongambler.com.