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Mixed Emotions For Mixed Blessing

Who can blame Idaho Gov. Phil Batt and his Gaming Study Committee for being ambivalent about gambling?

We are, too.

On one hand, gambling has become an economic savior on Indian reservations across this land and, in moderation, is enjoyed by many citizens. On the other hand, studies show gambling fuels addiction, bankruptcies, suicide and crime.

Batt deserved credit last week for balancing gambling’s conflicting dynamics when he folded his 12-member gaming committee. Rather than adopt the panel’s recommendation to keep the status quo, Batt asked tribal leaders to seek a federal court ruling to decide a core issue.

Sensibly, the governor wants to find out, once and for all, if video gambling terminals, which simulate slot machines, are legal under the Idaho Constitution. If they are, the governor said, that’s that. If they’re not, the state would have two options: Push for enforcement to shut down the machines or change Idaho law or the Constitution to legalize them.

The tribes, of course, didn’t like Batt’s equivocation. They thought the committee recommendation, on a flimsy 7-5 vote, paved the way for a compromise that would allow them to keep their machines. But they ignored one fact that Batt saw clearly: Idaho’s anti-gambling forces would oppose any attempt to legitimize the electronic devices by decree.

Even Episcopal Bishop John Thornton, who cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the majority report, felt the issue of gambling machines should go to court.

While the tribes decide what to do next, Idahoans should take a hard look at the findings of the committee’s minority report. The five dissenters claimed the majority ignored 15 to 20 studies from other states that show gambling is a destructive social force. The minority wrote: “Rather than deal with those problems, the majority seems to believe that human nature is completely different in Idaho from what it is elsewhere.”

Recently, Stanley Crow told The Spokesman-Review he and the panel’s other minority members weren’t against all gambling. In fact, he said, the committee recommendation would have been unanimous if the gambling machines had been left off the table.

In other words, the dissenters are much like mainstream Idahoans who approved a state lottery in 1988 and then voted overwhelmingly against casino gambling four years later. They had mixed emotions, too.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board