As a break from my recent rants, I thought perhaps y’all would like to see a few sample stories from my USC students. Those in my two SC classes are mostly sophomores and this is their very first reporting course. Bu, they’re smart cookies, so I figured you’d enjoy a look.
The first story is from an intelligent, energetic broadcast major named MAT MENDEZ. Each of the students is assigned to a city in which to report, and to a beat. Mat’s city is Bell Gardens, his beat is business.
This story about a local charity-related event that sparked some controversy.
Continuing their storied rivalry, USC battled UCLA recently in what can only be described as a tight, hard-fought match.
We’re not talking about football or basketball, though. And forget the peanuts and Cracker Jacks – it’s not baseball either.
Anyone for poker?
On February 23, 2008, The Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens hosted a USC vs. UCLA “Texas Hold ‘Em” tournament, in an effort to raise money on behalf each school’s chapter of the “Challenge for Charity” student organization. Fifteen percent of the prize pool – an amount of money not yet released- was donated to the Special Olympics, with the amount of each group’s donation depending on students’ poker performance.
The price to play: students – age 21 and older – had to fork over a $48 buy-in, $2 service charge, and $10 entry fee, most of which went toward the prize money on the table. Casino management emphasizes that the social experience, and the charity, are both well worth the money.
“You can play this game from cradle to grave,” said Kelley O’Hara, Director of Marketing for the casino. “You can play this with your family, you can play this with your friends.”
There seems to be one problem with that rosy picture. There are many skeptics both within and outside the community who are not so sure that poker is the best way to instill family values, or for that matter, raise money for charity, especially when it means introducing college students to the world of gambling.
“I don’t think it’s right,” said Rafael Casillas, a Bell Gardens resident. “They’re too young to do that, and I don’t think it’s fair to them.”
Casillas may have a point, at least according to University of Southern California psychology professor Robert Gore.
“The charitable nature of the event does seem likely to attract participants who wouldn’t ordinarily go, who are non-gamblers,” said Gore. “Anytime you expose people to a potentially addictive experience they haven’t had before, there is a risk that the newbies could get hooked.”
And, Gore notes, the likelihood is even greater for students who may decide to gamble with their parents’ money, rather than money they may have earned on the job.
“In general, people are more cautious with things they acquire through their own efforts than with bequests and gifts,” Gore said.
Despite acknowledging the risk, many organizations in Bell Gardens with ties to the casino are still proving very supportive of the event.
The Rio Hondo Boys and Girls Club, for example, gets roughly $20,000 a year from the Bicycle Casino in charitable donations, according to Chief Professional Officer Robert Rubio.
He likened the tournament to an earlier event at the casino, when he successfully lobbied the California Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control to license alcohol sales at a charity boxing match.
“I went over and actually took part in pouring the beer,” Rubio said. “Now how many alcoholics did I make that night? I doubt I made one. It was just a great fundraiser.”
But even those skeptics who “buy-in” to the argument that the simple risk of addiction does not negate the charity benefit of the event – say the targeting of students of barely-legal gambling age is risky, because of their impressionable nature.
“Young people tend to engage in more risky behavior in general,” Robert Gore said. “I would predict that the evening would be riskier for college students than it would be for middle-aged or older adults who have little experience gambling.”
Indeed, the buzz-word is risk, and the question remains whether holding a gambling tournament – under the guise of charity – is just a risk, or a catalyst toward addiction.
“It has the potential for people to have issues with gambling, and that’s not a great thing and I don’t support that on any level,” Kelley O’Hara said. “But it’s no different than owning the winery. It’s great to go visit, great to have a good dinner, great to have wine parties. It’s great until you hit a certain point when it’s destructive to you.”
Translation: the casino isn’t promoting gambling addiction, so the risk is acceptable, since it’s a matter of free will.
“I think it’s fine,” said Tracy Walton, a Bell Gardens resident who works near the casino.
“They’re of age, and it doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t see it causing trouble, and I’ve lived around here for a long time.”
But psychologist Robert Gore cautions against cursory acceptance of the event.
“If one person becomes hooked on gambling as a result of the evening, the personal and social costs from that single new addict could outweigh the social benefit of the charity,” he said.
“That’s not psychology, though. That’s common sense.”
(the photo by Lisa Wiltse, is in fact of an Australian poker guy, not UCLA or USC players)