Two women drag deeply on their cigarettes, staring vacantly into electronic slot machines, which they methodically feed with coins. Glittering lights and clanging bells surround them as they sit in the Lady Luck Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Signs beckon: "Double Your Paycheck." "Megabucks." "Every Spin a Winner."

Gambling has proliferated in the past five years to become America's new national pastime (CT, Nov. 14, 1994, p. 58). A two-year Ford Foundation study concludes that the nation—including the church—has allowed itself to become as hypnotized as the gambling addicts themselves.

More than 500 casinos have sprouted across America in the 1990s, accounting for 85 percent of all gambling. More Americans visited casinos in 1994 than attended all major-league baseball and National Football League games, accounting for $407 billion in wagers. Americans lost more money in casinos than they spent on children's toys.

Casinos in 27 states provided 1 million jobs and brought in $40 billion in annual revenues. At the same time, the gambling industry has entered communities wracked with poverty: Gary, Indiana; East Saint Louis, Illinois; Tunica, Mississippi; and more than 70 tribal reservations.

In 1994, the head of Harrah's Casinos predicted that 95 percent of Americans would live in a state with a casino by the year 2000. One developer forecast that casinos—not department stores—would become the new anchor of shopping malls.

FIGHTING BACK: Despite the momentum, the industry's roulette wheel seems to have jammed. The most recent industry reports suggest the U.S. casino movement has peaked. A riverboat gaming report suggests that the movement in America could be sharply curtailed by 2015. One of the main forces behind such a shift ...

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