I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that gambling, according to the most recent poll data, is just as acceptable to churchgoing Americans as it is to unbelieving world. Both groups approve of such activity by a margin of nearly 3 to 1. Little wonder, when one considers the near dearth of dissent that's available.

Few pastors are willing to deal with the subject from the pulpit. The news media, completely beholden to ratings and revenue, are loath to alienate viewers or advertising clients by reporting the truth about the vice, and its deadly toll. The entertainment division portrays gambling, its participants, and purveyors as "players," living a life of adventure and excitement you'd only love to emulate. Even the "watchdog" conservative talk radio circuit has largely avoided the subject, fearing the wrath of the local sales department.

So unfortunately, "what happens in Vegas," hasn't "stayed in Vegas." And outside of the blogosphere, and a mere handful of programs like mine, you're not likely to hear about the rush to casino-style gaming in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With precious little journalistic scrutiny in the state capitol of Harrisburg, Governor Ed Rendell and his accomplices have jammed through sweeping gaming legislation with breath-taking speed and relative ease. But the next steps in the process won't be nearly so easy.

With 14 new casinos in the works--including at least one major gaming establishment within Philadelphia city limits--the major public relations game is about to begin in Pennsylvania. With the casino-hotels of New Jersey just minutes away, and the state of Delaware ready to get in the game, the competition is bound to be fierce. Bear in mind that--despite its "blue state" status in the 2004 elections--PA is, outside of the major metropolitan areas surrounding Philly and Pittsburgh, an extremely conservative state. So the government, and the private proprietors who purchase the casino licenses, stand ready to spend millions of dollars on positive advertising...and your favorite TV and radio stations (except the ones I work for) stand ready to receive quite a windfall.

You'll see beautiful, young, and wealthy people celebrating their latest big win. You'll hear all about the jobs and new revenue that will pour into your community. You'll be comforted to learn that money that "used to flow to Atlantic City" is now staying here, paying for better schools and lowering property taxes. You'll even plan an evening of fun for your family sometime soon.

But you'll hear little or nothing about the precipitous downside of casino-style gambling. You won't hear much, if at all, about the 10 to 20 lives negatively affected by each compulsive gambler--many of them children. You won't be informed about the 300% increase we'll need in the police budget...the epidemic of bankruptcy, suicide, and substance abuse we can expect...and the substantial blow local businesses will take on the chin, once the gambling dens are up and operating.

Examine the impact gambling may already have on your life, or those of your family, for just a moment. Do you play the lottery...take part in office pools...or bet on sports? Do you journey to the Jersey shore for an occasional night of "action?" Are you glued to the television, taking in the broad spate of new poker shows popping up on nearly every channel? Then you may already be in the crosshairs of a new generation of gambling executives who stand ready, in the months and years just ahead,  to take you for all you're worth. Watch your wallet--stay informed--and guard your heart.

Coming Thursday: Show Me the Money