Some Americans would miss gambling
Most servicemembers and civilians asked about the gambling bill had not heard about it and had mixed feelings about the proliferation of slot machines in base clubs in Europe and the Pacific.
Army Spc. Melecio Leon, with the 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment on Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, said he thought the gambling ban would be a “good idea.”
“It would limit some people from spending all their money on gambling,” he said. “I’m not personally aware of anybody with a serious gambling addiction, but I’ve seen the ads on AFN and believe they’re a good public service. They also show you that gambling is a problem in the military and should be banned on the bases.”
Others, however, disagreed.
“It keeps morale up around here,” said Tech. Sgt. Brad Perry, 37, stationed at Misawa Air Base, Japan.
Slot players in England had similar thoughts.
“I don’t see why they should [ban gambling machines]. It’s a form of entertainment. Of course you want to make money, but you also have to know when to walk away,” said Earl Slocum, a retired technical sergeant who occasionally plays the slot machines at RAF Mildenhall’s Galaxy Club.
Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., sponsored the bill that would ban slot machines and video-gaming devices from all U.S. military installations overseas. Davis says the measure is a way to protect troops from a dangerous and addictive pastime.
Some had personal experience that seemed to validate Davis’ concern.
“I am very against gambling,” said George Baker, 56, a quality control manager for the general contractor building at Kadena’s new exchange complex. “I’ve witnessed firsthand how gambling can destroy a life.”
Baker, from Columbia, S.C., said his youngest brother was addicted to gambling.
“He spent all his money on the machines, and the rest of the family had to help him out. He lost maybe $15,000. We stepped in — we didn’t pay his debts, but we got him help.
“So, yes, I think the ban would be a good idea,” Baker said. “I’ve seen kids go hungry, and not just my brother’s. I’ve seen other parents spend their money on the poker machines in South Carolina instead of on groceries. I was happy to see the state place a ban on the machines.”
Baker, who served 15 years as a Navy Seabee and never gambled, said there is “no excuse for having gambling on the bases,” not even as a source of revenue for MWR programs.
“They can argue all they want that it has some benefits, but it doesn’t wash,” he said. “They can make it up some other way. It’s better to lose that income rather than take food out of children’s mouths.”
The issue prompted conflicted feelings for one slot-playing regular in Baumholder, Germany.
Bill Whipple, a retired soldier and now a civilian worker, regularly visits Baumholder’s Striker’s Bowling Center. The attraction, he said, is both the camaraderie enjoyed among his gambling friends and the ever-elusive chance for a big payday.
But for all the fun, Whipple said: “I’d be upset if they took it away. But in a way, it would be good, because it’s probably not good for the young guys. It can get addictive.”
On one hand, it’s important to look out for soldiers, he said. On the other, people should be allowed to make their choices.
At a nearby machine, Whipple’s buddy Patricio Russell was engrossed in his game of chance.
Russell, also a former soldier and longtime Baumholder resident, said his view on slots is simple.
“In my opinion, people should be responsible for how they spend their money,” Russell said.
But while Russell’s thoughts were clear-cut, Whipple continued to wrestle for the right answer.
“It’s a really good question. Should they stay or should they go? It’s hard to say,” Whipple pondered.
If they go, “Maybe I’d take up bowling.”
Stars and Stripes reporters David Allen on Okinawa; Jennifer Svan in Misawa, Japan; John Vandiver in Baumholder, Germany; and Sean Kimmons at RAF Mildenhall, England, contributed to this story.