In his first game as quarterback for the now-defunct Arlington High School Cardinals in 1956, Tom Gray passed a touchdown, ran for a touchdown, and was entitled “Tom Gray Leads Cards”.

Gray, now 80, still has a photo of himself jumping in the air to take the “jump pass” Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes made when needed en route to today’s Super Bowl .

You can bet on whether Mahomes’ first pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be caught, incomplete, or intercepted today. 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 it will take Eric Church and Jazmine Sullivan less than 1 minute and 59 seconds to sing the national anthem, whether The Weeknd will appear at halftime wearing sunglasses and which word the poet Amanda Gorman will say first: “hero”, “pandemic” or “super”.

The game of chance that the team wins is just one of the myriad of bets you can place on the Super Bowl. According to the American Gaming Association, it is expected to hit a record 7.6 million online bettors among the more than 23 million people betting more than $ 4.3 billion. Illinois and 24 other states as well as the District of Columbia have now legalized sports betting, and mobile betting accounts for 82% of the bets placed during this pandemic.

“America is in a gambling crisis. America has pretty much hit rock bottom,” said Gray, who has quartered the anti-gambling faction for 30 years. As a Methodist minister in Galena battling plans for a gambling riverboat in 1991, Gray received a referendum on the vote and then a formidable victory with 81% of voters against the boat. Then the politicians cleared the way for the Silver Eagle Casino, which sucked money away from the community until its riverboat collapsed in 1997.

In his role as field director for the National Coalition Against Gambling in 2007, Tom Gray returned to Arlington Heights, where he was a star high school quarterback, to speak out against bringing slot machines to Arlington Park.
– Daily Herald File Photo

Gray is a quarterback for all high school conferences and doesn’t fit when things get tough. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Gray commanded an American gun 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 the founder of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, Gray pinned a red, white and blue “CasiNO” button on the lapel of his Sunday best and toured the nation, organizing anti-gambling efforts, speaking to newspaper offices and bringing them to the gambling industry on television “60 Minutes “and” Frontline “.

This led to a grassroots group called the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion that initially succeeded in keeping gambling out of many states.

“We held Nebraska for 25 years and just lost it,” says Gray, noting that Hawaii and Utah are the only states left without state-sanctioned gambling.

Gray changes his game schedule along the way and is now a senior advisor to the nonprofit Stop Predatory Gambling. Gray, who lives in Spokane, Washington to be close to grandchildren, sees similarities between that effort and the “tobacco-free children” movement that has taken a bite from cigarette companies.

“At this point, they’re after the kids. They did the NFL on Nickelodeon,” says Gray, noting that gambling advertisements are rampant across all media and social media. Research shows that living within 10 miles of a casino doubles the chances of a person developing a gambling habit, and now pretty much anyone has the option to download a gambling app on their phone.

“Illinois is as bad as any state in the country,” said Les Bernal, a former high school and college basketball coach who has served as the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling in Washington, DC since 2008. He cites a 2019 poll by GOBankingRates that found that nearly 3 in 4 Illinois residents have less than $ 1,000 in savings, and nearly half have no savings. However, gambling companies and advertising target poorer areas, he says.

As gambling has become ubiquitous across the country and many bettors have gone online, Les Bernal, National Director of Stop Predatory Gambling says the focus is on protecting young people and those who live in poorer areas.
– Courtesy of StopPredatoryGambling.org

“Commercialized gambling is the exact opposite of wealth creation,” says Bernal, noting that gambling site owners make the most money with the state receiving some of the taxes and fees and the consumer losing money. “State-sanctioned gambling is a form of institutionalized racism. At its core, it’s a major disadvantage.”

The UK is considering banning gambling advertising and removing sponsors of gambling from soccer team shirts after new studies show how gambling can ruin the economic health of some families and lead to suicide.

“The more you participate, the more mathematical it is that you lose money,” says Bernal.

Gray likes to point out that smart people don’t play. He once conducted an interview with billionaire Warren Buffett, available at stoppredatorygambling.org, in which Buffett turned the idea of ​​government-sanctioned gambling on its head.

“Nothing is being developed. It’s a money transfer,” says Buffet of the gambling industry. “I think the state should try to do things for its citizens, not to harm its citizens.”

Common sense on his side gives Gray hope.

“That was a good fight and I’m glad I’m still at it,” says Gray, who also fought against racial injustice and compared the crusade against gambling to the “good trouble” the late MP John Lewis used to see had talk about it.

“I think we still have the winning hand,” says Gray. “The difficulty is staying in the game.”