Constable: Arlington High grad keeps on quarterbacking the anti-gambling movement
In his first game as quarterback for the now-defunct Arlington High School Cardinals in 1956, Tom Grey passed for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and earned the headline "Tom Grey Leads Cards."
Now 80, Grey still has a photograph of himself leaping into the air to make the kind of "jump pass" that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has made when needed on his way to today's Super Bowl.
You can bet on whether Mahomes' first pass today against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be caught, fall incomplete or be intercepted. You can also bet on the color of the Gatorade that might be poured on the winning coach, whether the coin toss will be heads, that Eric Church and Jazmine Sullivan will take less than 1 minute and 59 seconds to sing the national anthem, whether The Weeknd will show up with sunglasses at halftime, and which word poet Amanda Gorman will say first: "hero," "pandemic" or "super."
Gambling on which team wins is just one of the countless bets you can place on the Super Bowl, which is expected to draw a record 7.6 million online bettors among the more than 23 million people wagering more than $4.3 billion, according to the American Gaming Association. Illinois and 24 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, now have legalized sports betting, and mobile wagering is responsible for 82% of bets placed during this pandemic.
"America is on a gambling binge. America has pretty much hit bottom," says Grey, who has been quarterbacking the anti-gambling faction for 30 years. As a Methodist minister in Galena fighting plans for a gambling riverboat in 1991, Grey got a referendum on the ballot and then an impressive victory with 81% of voters opposing the boat. Then, the politicians cleared the way for the Silver Eagle Casino, which sucked money away from the community until its riverboat went belly up in 1997.
An all-conference quarterback in high school, Grey doesn't fold when the going gets tough. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Grey commanded a U.S. Army rifle company in Germany before spending part of 1965 and 1966 in Vietnam. After his service, he graduated from the Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston. As founder of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, Grey attached a red, white and blue "CasiNO" button to the lapel of his Sunday best and traveled the nation, organizing anti-gambling efforts, speaking to newspaper editorial boards and taking it to the gambling industry on television's "60 Minutes" and "Frontline."
That led to a grassroots group called the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, which had initial success keeping gambling out of many states.
"We held Nebraska for 25 years, and we just lost it," Grey says, noting Hawaii and Utah are the only states left without some state-sanctioned gambling.
Modifying their game plan along the way, Grey now is a senior adviser for the nonprofit Stop Predatory Gambling. Grey, who lives in Spokane, Washington, to be close to grandkids, sees similarities between this effort and the "tobacco-free kids" movement, which took a bite out of cigarette companies.
"At this point, they are after the kids. They did the NFL on Nickelodeon," Grey says, noting gambling advertisements are all over media and social media. Research shows that living within 10 miles of a casino doubles the odds of a person developing a gambling habit, and now, pretty much everyone has the ability to download a gambling app on their cellphone.
"Illinois is as bad as any state in the country," says Les Bernal, a former high school and college basketball coach who has been national director of Washington, D.C.-based Stop Predatory Gambling since 2008. He cites a 2019 GOBankingRates survey that found nearly 3 in 4 Illinois residents have less than $1,000 in savings, and almost half have no savings. Yet, gambling businesses and advertising target poorer areas, he says.
"Commercialized gambling is the complete opposite of wealth-building," Bernal says, noting that owners of gambling sites make the most money, with the state getting a portion in taxes and fees, and the consumer losing money. "State-sanctioned gambling is a form of institutionalized racism. At its core, it's a big con."
The United Kingdom is considering banning gambling advertising and removing gambling sponsors from the jerseys of soccer teams in the wake of new studies showing how gambling can ruin the economic health of some families and lead to suicide.
"The more you participate, it's a mathematical certainty you're going to lose money," Bernal says.
Grey likes to point out that smart people don't gamble. He once conducted an interview with billionaire Warren Buffett, available at stoppredatorygambling.org, in which Buffett ripped the idea of state-sanctioned gambling.
"There's nothing getting developed. It's a transfer of money," Buffet says of the gambling industry. "I think the state ought to be trying to do things for its citizens, not do something to its citizens."
Having common sense on his side gives Grey hope.
"This was a good fight, and I'm glad I'm still in it," says Grey, who also has fought racial injustice and compares the anti-gambling crusade with the "good trouble" that late Rep. John Lewis used to talk about.
"I think we still hold the winning hand," Grey says. "The difficulty is staying in the game."