In this Ga. refugee city, video gambling kills. Marijuana? Not so much.

A technician opens a coin-operated amusement machine at a Duluth gas station. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

A technician opens a coin-operated amusement machine at a Duluth gas station. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

The city that’s trying to ease penalties for pot possession is also known for clamping down on video gambling. Does Clarkston suffer from a fickle streak when it comes to vice?

Not at all, said Mayor Ted Terry. In his city, which is renown for taking in refugees from across the globe, state-sanctioned video gambling has been far more dangerous than pot, he said.
“Look at the fact that we had people die because of gambling debt. That right there is a public health threat,” Terry said. “No one has died using marijuana in the history of Clarkston that I’m aware of.”
At least one suicide has been tied to gambling in this city of refugees, and locals say the death toll might be higher. A Sunday Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found that refugees are behind much of the $1.2 million or more in revenue that lottery records say Clarkston area video gambling machines make in a single month.
Locals report spending their entire rent checks in a single sitting, and tell of friends to blew thousands of dollars in savings that they hoped to send to their loved ones overseas. Marriages have suffered and homes were lost, they say. Some refugees have moved out of state because they felt it was the only way to get a fresh start.
Experts say that the aftereffects of the violence and hardship they experienced in their home countries and their current social isolation makes them perfect candidates for gambling addiction.
Terry, who also serves on the DeKalb Board of Public Health, said Clarkston voters want him and other elected officials to make their decisions based on evidence, and the evidence on pot is that the way possession is policed disproportionately hurts low-income minorities.
Lowering pot penalties is a public health decision, he said. So is keeping a tight reign on video gambling.
“At the end of the day, people have elected us to make a healthier and safer Clarkston,” Terry said.

View Comments 0