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GAMBLING PANEL WOULD PAY OFF

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An increase in legalized gambling nationwide, complete with its attendant problems, cries out for better information and for some firm answers.

A proposal to create a national gambling commission is a logical step toward finding those answers.Hearings are being held in Congress on a bill by Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., to form a nine-member commission to study the effects of the spread of gambling. The fact that Simon is leaving Congress after his current term tends to take partisanship out of the proposal. In fact, a major co-sponsor of the bill is Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.

The most vocal opponents of Simon's idea are Nevada senators, who felt they were "ambushed" during U.S. House of Representatives hearings last week when proponents called as a star witness former Chicago mobster William Jahoda.

Nevada representatives are obviously afraid of restrictions eventually being placed on legal gambling operations, Nevada's primary industry. But Jahoda's testimony provided an invaluable look inside such operations. Americans need to understand the seamy side of gambling - a side often hidden behind the neon glitz of casinos and racetracks.

The facts borne out by studies of current gambling operations in a number of states indicate that social problems dramatically increase when gambling is legalized, and hoped-for revenue for state governments don't often materialize.

A problem gambler can cost society anywhere from the most conservative estimate of $13,200 to $30,000 a year. Research has shown gambling brings an increase in crime, child abuse and neglect, divorce and suicide.

Even state-run lotteries, once believed to be fountains of revenue for worthwhile programs, have proven to cause more problems than they cure. Paradoxically, the poor are most vulnerable to the lure of lotteries. Looking for an easy way out of poverty, they divert money from necessities to pay for lottery tickets, then need more government assistance to survive.

Congress should move ahead with the formation of a gambling commission, which then should take a hard look at ways to regulate gambling operations and discourage their further proliferation.