Creating economic opportunity in Florida – but not through gambling

In 1978, gambling was officially legalized in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The city was struggling and in an attempt to create jobs they turned themselves into a resort city where weekenders could play. Politicians introduced casino gambling as the easy route to a quick-fix cash flow. And other than the few, low paying jobs it created, gambling did not prevent the city from plummeting into widespread poverty. Many of the casinos declared bankruptcy years later.

Faced with our own widespread, economic crisis Florida politicians have tried to introduce casino gambling here as the magic elixir. And Governor Rick Scott is also working on a future pact with the Seminole Tribe, which might be accompanied by the usual promise of more racetracks and blackjack tables as a boost to the economy.

What is not being discussed is that a pro-casino bill, which would legalize high stakes gambling, would also open the door to massive gambling addiction problems in Florida. Not to mention the organized crime that inevitably spawns around gambling.

It seems irresponsible when you look at current poverty statistics. Add to that the fact that too many people in our community blow money they can’t afford to spend on these games of chances. This should be a serious concern for our representatives. Still, thousands roll the dice and shuffle the cards in a futile bid that will not get them out of poverty.

A visit to the local “Gamblers Anonymous” reveals many untold stories of normal citizens who blew their life savings, maxed out dozens of credit cards, alienated themselves from loved ones, and even committed crimes in order to satisfy the irrepressible desire to become wealthy overnight. According to the official statistics from the non-profit “Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling” (FCCG), more than half of all dedicated gamblers have confessed they’ve committed illegalities.

The psychological traits of most gamblers vary, but the most predominant passions are stress, nervousness and even severe depression. Needless to say, many distressed, unemployed south Florida residents share similar emotional profiles. The FCCG also discovered that a whopping 83% of all addicts struggle to pay common household bills. Their 2008 study also concluded that in Florida, around 21,000 college students are most probably already suffering gambling problems.

Florida continuously battles Nevada as the number one state with the most foreclosure reports. One of every 43 houses has been in some sort of foreclosure trouble in the recent past. In times of complete anguish, when suicide thoughts plague the repossessed, dazzling jackpots are irresistible. The most seemingly innocent lottery ticket purchase is not just a chance at easy money, if distorted into an obsession, it becomes simply a desire to escape reality. Thus, a social problem is born.

A large percentage of these frequent gamblers who visit tracks, the Magic City Casino, Seminole Hard Rock and the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming here in the Miami area are tragically retired seniors. American Gaming Association statistics demonstrate that half of all adults visiting casinos are over 50 years old. Which sadly coincides with the fact that many families struggling to make ends meet in Miami-Dade rely on a family member’s social security check or retirement money. All this points to the possibility that if casino tactics (like pushing legislation in their favor) continue to evolve, we might see a worsening in foreclosures and even more documentation of actual hunger.

The NYU Law School International Human Rights Clinic has reported that an astonishing 50 million families in the United States are food insecure. They are households that supposedly earn wages over the poverty line that disqualifies them for any food assistance programs. At the same time they do not earn enough to be safe from hunger. Many low-income south Florida families are coping with heavily reduced, or already inexistent, assistance programs by simply cutting back on nutrition.

Politicians need to come up with solutions to these types of problems. Gambling is not the answer. How can they present it as a good thing for Miami-Dade if the economic benefits from such a proposal will end up privatized, yet the “collateral damages” to our society will be socialized?

In the end, any negative side effects will be compensated with taxpayer dollars. Adding to our problems, not solving them.

Of course, visiting casinos has and will continue to be a common weekend excursion for many. Playing “Bolita” will likely remain part of our Cuban culture. I too am guilty of having stood in line to play the Florida Lottery, but that wasted one-dollar doesn’t make us poorer or magically create jobs. Knowing the impossible odds of actually winning is not the solution for any of our problems. Taken to extremes, it’s more like a mental escape pill – a drug even.

Granted, there are more insane Republican proposals buzzing around the country like eliminating the Department of Education, cutting off Medicaid altogether and privatizing Social Security. Ignoring the ideas that are downright bonkers… why aren’t politicians thinking outside the box?

For example, just 90 miles south of Key West lays an unexplored possibility, an uncharted route to assured and reliable job opportunities.

Doing business with Cuba will undoubtedly favor the natural blossoming of substantial work options. It would create multiple small companies and create a productive commerce between local commercial companies.  These companies would then automatically create jobs in the area. Our standards of living would improve.

Some see it as a daring design. But economists tell us it can only provide our community authentic benefits.

The ongoing economic sanctions against Cuba that turned 52 years old a few days ago benefit a small, reduced number of individuals. These antiquated policies keep their artificial vigor against Cuba, and thus against our local economy, through tightly knit organizations and subversive foreign projects that attempt against the well being of our community.

Each day, each month and subsequent year that goes by we lose economic opportunities. We keep tossing out the window reliable and legitimate chances at expanding our own uncensored, Caribbean commerce. We continue to senselessly surrender our geographical advantage while keener businessmen from other countries take full advantage of the unique situation where no American presence interferes in their competitive marketplace.