Bill would ban military slot machines

A bill in Congress seeks to eliminate military slot machines overseas that take in USD 130 million a year, mostly from soldiers. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Lincoln Davis, named the bill after Army Warrant Officer Aaron Walsh, a decorated Apache helicopter pilot who became addicted to gambling on military slot machines.

Walsh eventually was discharged from the Army. He committed suicide after several failed attempts to break his addiction. The Defense Department uses slot machine revenues to pay a small portion of its morale, welfare and recreation programs.

Davis said the money raised off the gambling of soldiers is not worth the risks. „If American men and women are willing to serve our country overseas we should not be dependent on them to pay for recreational activities they deserve,“ he said in a written statement. „The risks are simply too high and too many to ask that of our soldiers.“

The bill’s introduction comes after Walsh’s story was featured in a CNN investigative report. His widow, Carrie Walsh, described how her husband’s life spun out of control while the military refused to intervene. „The military has this culture of taking care of their own,“ she told CNN. „But it seems like when it comes to this, they just profited from his addiction and then threw him away.“

Carrie Walsh said that in 2005 her husband lost more than USD 20,000 in military slot machines. He went AWOL, only to be found sitting in front of a video slot machine on a military post in Seoul. He was forced to resign from the Army and spent time homeless on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 2006, Walsh returned to Maine and tried to reconnect with his wife and their two small children, but his gambling addiction continued. On September 26, 2006, Walsh went to Maine’s Baxter State Park and killed himself with a gunshot to the head.

The Army operates 3,000 slot machines on overseas posts, raising USD 130 million in revenue each year. Other branches of the military operate their own gaming programs.

University of Illinois business professor John Kindt, who has studied gambling addictions and the military, agrees with Davis that the money raised is not worth the risk. He says the military should find other ways to entertain troops. „It shouldn’t be about exploiting our service personnel and putting families and their children at risk,“ he told CNN.

In a statement released by the Pentagon earlier this year, Undersecretary of Defense Leslye Arsht said gambling on bases and posts provides „a controlled alternative to unmonitored host-nation gambling venues and offers a higher payment percentage, making it more entertainment oriented than that found at typical casinos.“

The Warrant Officer Aaron Walsh Stop DOD-Sponsored Gambling Act would prohibit the military from operating slot machines on military bases. The legislation was introduced last Wednesday afternoon.