Tuesday, October 8, 1996
Why would we take a gamble on our future?

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ask yourself why you're here.

I don't mean why you were put on Earth. That's a separate, harder question. I mean why are you living in Cincinnati, Ohio? Even if the stork dropped you off, you've had plenty of chances to go someplace else. What's keeping you here?

Even if your company made you come to Cincinnati, you could have gotten a transfer by now, if you'd really wanted one. What's stopping you?

Even if you just came here to get an education, why did you stick around to raise a family and sign a mortgage?

What are you still doing here? You didn't come for the nightlife. It wasn't for the shopping. Or the theater. Or the ocean. Or the mountains. Or the mild winters. If your sinuses had a vote, maybe you'd have packed up the fondue set and Ruthven prints and left long ago.

Borders are open

Let's admit it. Most of us have a Rand McNally Atlas and a car and could find our way to another place, one with a Nordstrom's or a seashore or more dependable weather. We like it here. It's a nice place, one with character. This is our home.

In less than a month, we'll be asked to permit riverboat casino gambling here. Ohio's Issue 1 on the Nov. 5 ballot would amend the state's constitution to allow this. In our home.

What if somebody asked you whether they could rent your front porch to use for a high-stakes poker game? They are willing to pay, of course, for the privilege of changing forever the place where you eat and sleep and raise your family.

They're willing to hire your kids to clean up the beer cans and cigar butts. They will also teach them to play cards, if they don't already know how. Oh, and they'll paint the lattice and install kleig lights. It might be kind of noisy and dirty.

Your answer would be, I think, something like, ''Just a minute, let me call the weather bureau and see if hell has frozen over yet.''

That's what you'd do unless you were really on the ropes - sick, down and out, with no other prospects. Desperate. Maybe then you'd grab the quick money to, say, feed your family even if it guaranteed unsavory characters regular access to your home. I think it's called selling your soul, historically a perfect way to get ripped off.

Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls says gambling siphons money from existing businesses. If we allow gambling here, she says ''up to $1 billion will flow out of Ohio to line the pockets of the gambling industry. This money would have been spent on cars, appliances, home improvements and entertainment. If $1 billion is lost at the gambling table, there is no sales tax.''

Keeping our G rating

Voters have agreed to cough up a half-billion dollars for two new sports stadiums. Lazarus has asked for additional space for its new downtown store. The Underground Railroad Museum is gaining momentum. Plans continue for an aquarium. Hope continues for a transit system linking the Cincinnati - Northern Kentucky International Airport with the downtown and the zoo and Paramount's Kings Island.

So far, all this stuff is G-rated, fit for the whole family.

Whenever somebody wants us voters to agree to something we don't think we'll use ourselves, we're told that we are selfish and backward and clearly not willing to become world-class. Gambling is being pitched here as a way to grow, an ''economic grand slam.''

(If gambling is such a good idea, then why has it taken Newport so long to recover from it?)

Most of us who live here have noticed that we're not exactly flashy. The payoff is that we're substantial, decent, comfortable and safe. We also know we need industry and jobs and new buildings and new ideas to stay healthy. We know we have to educate our kids and give them reasons to stay after they grow up.

Lately it seems as though there have been a lot of opportunities to build something or buy something or allow something. Maybe when it comes to our casino gambling ''opportunity,'' something that profits from human weakness, we should just ask ourselves why we are here. I don't mean why we're in Cincinnati. I mean that other, harder question.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.