Gambling is a national problem. According to a 1997 Harvard Medical School study, some 7.5 million American adults are problem or pathological gamblers, as are 7.9 million adolescents. Americans spend an estimated $64 billion each year betting on everything from illegal cockfights to state-run lotteries. While some of this money is spent relatively innocently -- bingo night at the fire hall, with small stakes all going to charity, a friendly game of cards with friends or a couple of bucks in the office's sports pool -- much of gambling is unsavory business.
A few years ago, I visited a casino at an Indian reservation where I was vacationing. I was shocked to see so many elderly men and women -- many of them obviously destitute -- using credit cards to play slot machines with zombie-like fixation. Bill Bennett may have millions in discretionary income to waste on slot machines, but most people who gamble regularly don't. When I sat on the board of directors of a bus company a few years ago, I learned the busiest days for excursions to Las Vegas and Atlantic City were the days of the month when Social Security and welfare checks arrived in the mail.
"There is much unhappiness and personal distress in the world because of failures to control tempers, appetites, passions and impulses," Bennett writes in The Book of Virtues. "'Oh, if only I had stopped myself,' is an all too familiar refrain," he says. No doubt he's feeling the sting of those words himself these days.
But the prodigal Bill Bennett still has much to teach us about virtue, with the help of one virtue mysteriously missing from the chapter headings in his earlier tome: Humility.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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