Mahoning County boasts -- if that's the right word -- the state's highest per capita spending on the Ohio lottery. With $73 million being shelled out at local lottery dealers, that amounts to $373 for every man and woman over 18 in the county. Considering the number of folks who never buy a lottery ticket, that's an awful lot of money being spent by many people who can ill afford it. The line between hoping for a dream come true and gambling addiction may be a lot finer than gamblers would credit.
Mahoning County's gambling habit certainly precedes the state lottery. In the past, illegal gambling was the rule rather than the exception, and even now, despite the government-sanctioned opportuntities to lose one's money and cheap flights to the cities and states where casinos are legal, illicit games of chance can still be found in the Valley.
Add the money spent on this other gambling to the $73 million spent on the various lottery games, and it becomes clear that the region's economy is being sapped by activities that produce no goods and services and that put no bread on the table. It may be no wonder that levies fail if a taxpayer would rather budget for gambling losses than needy children, the local school district or a township's roads.
Heavy toll on families
Far worse, of course, is the toll compulsive gambling takes on the gambler and his or her family: jobs and homes are lost, marriages are destroyed; relationships are shattered.
Because its high rate of lottery expenditures, Mahoning County is one of four counties in the state to receive a $50,00 grant to fight gamblin addiction in a program sponsored by the Ohio Lottery Commission and the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.
Gambling may be a hidden addiction, unlike alcohol and drug addiction which are revealed much more readily in aberrant behavior. Yet this makes the compulsive gamblers all the harder to treat.
Fifty thousand dollars isn't really very much considering the number of heavy-duty gamblers. But it's a start. Some compulsive gamblers may only need to know that help is available -- that there can be hope that doesn't come from the next roll of the dice or the next numbers scratched of a $2 ticket.