The Oregonian
Letter to the Editor
Sunday, February 19, 1995

Don't excuse breaking the law
because gambler lacked self-control

To the Editor: The story of Bruce Hugo, the Columbia County commissioner who used public money to play video poker (Feb. 8), illustrates the bizarre beliefs that drive our culture's attitude towards addiction.

Hugo regrets having voted to legalize video poker, as if all who gamble do so as irresponsibly as he did. He calls himself "a compulsive gambler," almost suggesting that he may be powerless over some mysterious compulsion that overruled his morals, his muscles, and his nervous system, somehow forcing him to put county money into the poker machine against his will.

The key to understanding this situation came out when Hugo told investigators he's gambled the money away and never paid it back. If someone takes county money and doesn't pay it back, that person is a thief. Where the money went is irrelevant. What Hugo does or does not do to solve his gambling problem is his business.

People who steal to fund a gambling debt or a drug habit routinely go unpunished or underpunished because they "can't help themselves." Stories such as Hugo's are represented as the norm and are then used to lobby against licensed or legalized gambling. Most gamblers gamble responsibly. Of those who do let their gambling go over budget, most wake up and say something like, "I'd better stop this or I'm going to start stealing." Their morals override their so-called compulsions.

CLIFF WALKER, coordinator
Rational Recovery of Portland