It’s in the quickly spoken words at the end of radio ads for casinos in Milwaukee or Chicago: “Know when to stop before you start. Gambling problem? Call” and then a 1-800 number. It’s on the Caesars.com website, where there’s a professionally produced video of company employees — from executives to table dealers — urging patrons to not gamble when drunk, lonely or depressed.
Casinos exist because of patrons’ willingness to gamble, to bet against often long odds for the possibility of a big payoff. The casino wants your money, but it doesn’t want you to go broke in the process. This we understand, and our published support for the proposed Menominee Nation casino in Kenosha should make it clear we’re not opposed to gambling.
We are, however, opposed to casino operators getting into the payday loan business, or vice versa. That is what the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa in Vilas County are on the verge of doing.
Beginning in May, the Chippewa opened three online payday loan companies, two of which went online in December, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Sunday. The tribe also set itself up to operate a real-money online casino: If online gambling were to become legal nationwide or in Wisconsin, Chippewa President Tom Paulson said, “we could just flip a switch” and convert its online casino’s current games — which involve winning and using play money — into those taking bets using real money.
Given that the Chippewa already offer online payday loans — the type of loan which invariably involves considerably higher interest rates than those you’ll get at Johnson Bank, Chase or Tri City — having that same institution allow you to put real money in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em with a single click is a chilling prospect.
Maulson dismisses critics who see gambling and high-interest, short-term lending as businesses that prey on the poor, the Journal Sentinel reported. “It’s legal to do, and we’re doing it legally,” Maulson said.
Legal and right aren’t necessarily the same thing.
There’s already a disconnectedness in any online activity. If you’re in your home office or bedroom with a desktop computer, you’re frequently alone, or sufficiently engaged with the device as to be cut off — in part or in whole — from the world around you. Even when you’re at a coffee shop or restaurant taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi, you’re interacting with the laptop or your smartphone, not another person directly.
When you’re in the casino, on the other hand, there’s a physical pile of chips in front of you, and it’s either getting bigger or, more likely, smaller. The people next to you at the table are winning and losing, too, and your awareness of their wins and losses keeps you mindful of how much of the money you came in with is still in your possession.
To take someone with a gambling problem — or, more dangerously, the person who has a gambling problem but has yet to realize it — away from the human contact of the casino and into a situation where they can all too easily “get cash fast” without serious consideration of the terms and conditions of that loan is a step too far for us.
Before any steps to legalize online gambling in Wisconsin, the Legislature should require that online gambling companies cannot also be in the business of online lending.
Gamblers need to know when to stop before they start. Casinos should not be in the business of loaning the money to keep a gambler in the game.