– Gameness til the End
Jul. 4, 2013 2:00 AM | Written by Lee P. Webber
Editor’s note: Lee P. Webber is the chairman of the Guam Memorial Hospital’s Board of Trustees.
Following this past Sunday’s story regarding gambling, in particular cockfighting, it struck me that while I am certain the senators had the best of intentions in mind regarding gambling, like so many other things, they may have pushed the envelope a bit too far.
Then Tuesday, the coverage of Bill 132 — authorizing more borrowing power for GMH to assist in covering the outstanding debt — it struck me that while I am certain the senators’ and governor’s intentions are well-placed, their actions give me reason to pause.
Passing two bills to cover the payment of unpaid bills at GMH is somewhat akin to handing someone another shovel while they are already digging a hole so they can dig even faster — particularly when there is supposedly $30 million in excess funds that could actually be used to fund the GMH long term debt.
Bill 19 seems to be intended to assist GMH in recovering from the significant unfunded debt load that has built up over many years. But from an overall responsibility perspective, much of this longer-term debt is due to continued underfunding of the hospital by elected officials who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to take such action at the expense of all the taxpayers and citizens of Guam.
Like it or not, GMH is a government-run hospital and, as such, requires proper and adequate government funding on an ongoing basis. Elected leadership must ensure they fund it properly on an annual basis, not just when it seems financially convenient.
Having spent some 45 plus years living, working and raising a family in Guam, I can say with some certainty that I cannot recall a time when bingo and cockfighting weren’t common place in all villages and an actual part of the day-to-day life in Guam. So, it is little wonder that folks find this part of Bill 19 to be a bit odd.
From my perspective, there have been numerous other elements introduced into the community that that were far more disruptive to our island’s lifestyle than bingo and cockfighting.
Things such as video shops, cable television, slot machines, lotteries, organized (and underground) gambling operations and the like all come together to adversely impact island life, family, culture and changed retail and familial financial dynamics as well.
These were and are all very powerful forces, some of which carried with them sectors of good, as well as prolonged negative, impacts to our island community (as well as those throughout the balance of Micronesia).
Spending habits, diets and daily routines changed. With these came increased health care needs that followed, the latter of which placed greater burdens on the islands only hospital and public health care facilities.
Change and inaction
Unfortunately these additional health care problems weren’t met with proper funding as well as more progressive management of the public healthcare facilities. We are where we are today because of this merger of change and political inaction.
My belief is that the essence of Bill 19 and Bill 132 are good and the banning of more destructive forms of gambling on Guam is the right thing to do. I commend the senators and governor for their intent to help the hospital while also attempting to address these destructive aspects in our island’s society.
Now you may agree or disagree, but I don’t place bingo and cockfighting in the same category as slot machines or other forms of organized, Vegas-style gambling operations.
There are those who will do so, but it is my belief that they are be short-sighted and attempting to take away a few simple pleasures from our elderly when demanding the cessation of bingo.
I suppose one could argue for tradition for bingo and cockfighting, which cannot be done for such things as slot machines and lotteries.
In years past, we have seen first-hand what happens when gambling machines are allowed to proliferate. Children were found in cars outside of video poker establishments during the wee hours of the morning, paychecks were squandered and families suffered, along with overall general retail sales.
That in turn caused a greater burden on society and lower levels of personal and business tax revenues coming into government coffers — revenues needed for the adequate funding of public education, road repairs, infrastructure improvements, public safety and healthcare.
Now our elected officials are attempting to go back and fix the mistakes of the past by banning all activities that they perceive as gambling, no matter how long they have been part of this island’s way of life.
Maybe they need to rethink Bill 19 and release a few items from the definition of gambling and understand that Bill 132 is a Band-Aid that will only cover a self-inflicted wound and that will be paid for by our children.
Lee P. Webber is a former president and publisher of the Pacific Daily News, and has been a resident of Guam since 1968.