Published: Sunday, March 2, 2003
You gotta know when to fold 'em
Of all the reaction to the Feb. 16 column in this space advocating casino gambling in Ohio, a letter and a telephone call stand out. While the two respondents are as different as night and day, they do have one thing in common: They know about gambling.
First the letter. It was from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown and was aimed at straightening this writer out on the church's position on gambling.
"In your recent column about gambling, you suggested that the Catholic Church is 'schizophrenic' about gambling. You stated that, 'the church is opposed to all forms of gambling.'
"While I understand the point you are trying to make, your statement about the Church being 'opposed to all forms of gambling' is incorrect. Enclosed is a Catholic Exponent article I wrote several years ago that more accurately reflects the teaching of the Church on this matter. I hope you will find it helpful."
The Catholic Exponent piece was headlined "Should we let the games begin?" and was published Sept. 20, 1996. It was written by the bishop at the time of the riverboat gambling initiative in Ohio and here's what it said, in part: "Gambling can, in fact, have useful purposes. Gambling provides funds for non-profit agencies such as churches and volunteer fire departments, allowing educational, charitable and safety programs to take place. With proper controls, gambling can offer entertainment for people and bring communities together. Many of our senior citizens find vital social support around bingo tables.
"As Catholics we should refrain from universal condemnation of gambling. There is no theology to support such a condemnation and we can easily be accused of being hypocritical about the issue."
Tobin's point is well taken and this writer apologizes for misrepresenting the church's position on this highly charged issue.
Gambling does become morally unacceptable when it deprives someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others, according to the bishop. "The passion for gambling risks becoming enslavement," he added.
So, is there a way to expand the games of chance that Ohio now offers without creating a population of sinners?
The proponents of casinos believe safeguards can be put in place to make sure that people don't lose their shirts, in a manner of speaking, at the blackjack table or with a roll of the dice.
But not everyone thinks Ohio needs Las Vegas-type gambling to satisfy the cravings of Ohioans who now spend more than $200 million a year outside the state.
Orlando Carabbia -- yes, he of the infamous organized crime family -- telephoned this writer and offered his view on how Ohio can expand gambling.
Like the Catholic Church, Carabbia doesn't believe that bigger is necessarily better when it comes to games of chance. Thus his idea: card clubs, similar to those in California.
Carabbia, who served six years in prison on racketeering and gambling charges, declined to talk about his brothers, Charlie, who was the victim of a Mafia hit, and Ronnie, who was recently released from prison after a long sentence. But he was eager to talk about gambling -- legal, that is.
He contends that if restaurants and clubs had the chance to offer table card games, the wealth that gambling generates would be spread around. Casino-style operations concentrate the wealth in the hands of a select few.
Under Carabbia's plan, the state would issue licenses and regulate the card games, just as it does horse racing, the lottery and bingo. He says the number of tables in an establishment would be determined by the seating capacity of a restaurant or club.
In California, card clubs are approved by and licensed by local jurisdictions. It is estimated that the state's 233 card clubs generated $711 million in gross revenues in 1995..
Whether Carabbia's idea attracts any interest in Columbus, or whether he is dismissed as just another has-been crook from the Mahoning Valley isn't the issue.
The fact of the matter is that Ohio's opposition to any expansion of gambling is based on a faulty premise: If you don't give people the opportunity to gamble, they won't.
Of course it's less problematic for casino gambling advocates to try to recruit the Catholic Church as an ally than to embrace Orly Carabbia as an expert.
But that doesn't mean his idea isn't worthy of consideration.