Military-sponsored gambling hurts families


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. military takes in more than $130 million a year from slot machines on overseas bases. The revenue goes to fund recreation programs. But some question whether the harm of gambling addiction outweighs the income.

Tom Grey, spokesman for the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said it's a shame the Department of Defense openly promotes such a vice.

"The military, instead of providing wholesome recreation, is taking and using gambling—casino gambling—to take advantage of these soldiers," he said.

According to the Pentagon it operates up to 8,000 slot machines on military installations overseas.

For some, the temptation is overwhelming. Helicopter pilot Aaron Walsh committed suicide after losing his military career and his savings to a gambling addiction. It began with him playing slot machines on military bases.

John Kindt, a professor at the University of Illinois, said the military is naïve to think Vegas-style gambling is anything but harmful.

"You've got these slot machines and electronic gambling devices, which are known among the psychological and psychiatric communities as the 'crack cocaine' of addicting new gamblers," he said.

Kindt estimates that 2.2 percent of military personnel show signs of pathological gambling. 

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said gambling is a root cause of financial problems and family breakups.

"We need policies that encourage discipline rather than indiscipline," she said. "Having slot machines on military bases seems to violate that basic principle."