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Military casinos are risky

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A new federal audit reveals that casinos on U.S. Air Force bases abroad are sloppily managed and prime candidates for theft. While auditors did not identify any thefts, per se, they noted in their bureaucratese that "control weaknesses and resulting cash losses could bring discredit upon the slot machine program and thus jeopardize the $29 million annual contribution to quality-of-life programs."

Come again? Contribution? Quality-of-life programs? While one could argue that none of the Air Force's operations should be handled carelessly, a larger question looms in this circumstance: Why, when the moral and financial pitfalls of gambling are well known and understood, is the military sanctioning and sponsoring this activity?

Faced with the result of this new audit, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, has begun asking the very same questions, which is highly commendable.

Certainly, the military needs to ask itself why it is tempting young men and women living in remote places far from home. At a time when some young military families have such small incomes that they qualify for other forms of government assistance, one of their most convenient forms of entertainment offered to them is gambling.

Men, women and families stationed abroad need a wide range of entertainment and recreation options. Should gambling be among the choices when the Department of Defense's own research shows that military personnel have a greater propensity to experience gambling-related problems than their civilian counterparts?

Perhaps military men and women who play slot machines and video poker can better rationalize the habit because, instead of the profits going to the "house," such as is the case with commercial casinos, the military uses casino revenues to support its "morale, welfare and recreation" activities. When one hears that rationalization, it almost sounds wholesome.

Of course, the military hastens to punish people who write bad checks to support their gambling habits, but there is anecdotal evidence, at least, that the armed forces are slow to offer help to rehabilitate addicts.

The structure and discipline of military life does not prevent some people from making bad personal choices. It is not the military's fault when a serviceman or servicewoman writes bad checks or commits other crimes to support a foolish personal habit. Surely, they should be held accountable for their misdeeds.

But in a culture that encourages order, it makes no sense that the military itself would condone and encourage such a corrupting influence.