Gambling problems same everywhere

By Ned Cantwell

My friend Barney, who lives in New Jersey, tends to look down on poor little New Mexico. The source of his disdain is somewhat of a mystery. Maybe we don’t have enough Mafia guys to suit Barney. Who knows?

Barney is a nice enough fellow, but somewhat of an irritant. Sometimes when I pick up the receiver and discover Barney there, I can’t help but wish I were going to spend the next half hour with a more welcome caller, like maybe a telemarketer trying to sell me a time share.

That’s kind of how I felt the other evening when Barney’s opening salvo was, “I’ve been reading about what’s going on with gambling in New Mexico.” Oh oh.

“This guy John Arthur Smith, that state senator, is he nuts?” Barney wanted to know. “Now he wants to expand gambling to all New Mexico hotels, bars, restaurants, convenience stores?”

I explained to Barney that he was completely misreading Sen. Smith’s intentions. Actually, the Deming Democrat is firmly embedded with the forces that would halt gambling expansion in New Mexico.

His legislation actually stipulates that widespread gambling would descend upon the state only if Gov. Bill Richardson —or any future governor — would acquiesce to the notion of letting Indian tribes build off-casino reservations like the Jemez Pueblo wants to do in Anthony.

“What you don’t understand is that Sen. Smith’s legislation is actually a draconian threat that warns the state it needs to put the skids on gambling.”

“Draconian threat? Barney bellowed. “Draconian? You know, before you became a two-bit columnist, you didn’t talk like that. Before you became a poor man’s George Will, you would have said ‘big threat.’ My guess is you heard one of those idiot CNN commentators say ‘draconian,’ and you figured out a way to say it in your column so people would think you are smart.

“And what’s with this ‘embedded with the forces’ crap and ‘acquiesce to the notion?’ Look, we know you own a dictionary. Knock it off.”

Although his harsh and frequent criticisms of my writing ability and intellect are hardly the affirmation one might seek, they nonetheless, in this case, diverted us from the subject of New Mexico gambling, for which I was grateful. Unfortunately, it was brief respite.

“Back to this gambling thing,” he said, getting back to the gambling thing. “Look, you guys are providing plenty of jobs for folks with your fancy new casinos, but how about the social cost? How about people losing the rent money, how about chucking into a slot machine quarters that should be used to buy milk for the kids?”

He zeroed in on the big deal everyone is making about the lady who won a million bucks at Sandia Casino. “I saw a letter to the Albuquerque paper that said this woman had to sell her house to pay medical expenses, yet she still had money to gamble?”

I did not want to go there, so inserted a clever conversation segue. “So, how’s the kids?” I asked.

“Never mind the kids,” Barney growled, “you are trying to avoid talking about New Mexico gambling, and I think I know why.”

“Tell me, Barney, have they completely closed down Atlantic City?”

I’m usually the one who slams the receiver down on Barney, but this time he hung up on me. It felt good.

Ned Cantwell of Ruidoso is a retired newspaper publisher and member of the New Mexico Press Association Hall of Fame. E-mail him at: ncantwell@charter.net