Israel gambles on morality with move to build casinos

"In recent years, the government has proposed many casinos, and the Knesset has shot them down repeatedly," he said. "For every dollar the casino makes, $10 will have to be spent on fighting the losers' debts and addiction. A Jewish state doesn't need to make money from the misery of others."

According to Shimon Katznelson, chairman of Israel's national lottery and gambling, "The only way to halt illegal gambling establishments, which police estimate handle billions annually, is by the formation of a legal casino that will use all of its revenues toward the betterment of society and for educational projects… such as longer school days, university scholarships, and school computers."

The national lottery estimates that 70 percent to 80% of annual profits, roughly $2 billion, would serve such ends.

For the Mitzpe Ramon economy, the casino would create thousands of jobs and aid in the region's business development, Katznelson said.

Pines-Paz said the idea of building a Mifal Hapayis casino as a solution to the illegal gambling problem is a "joke," because the country's prominent underground gamblers would never set foot in a legal casino.

Any profits from the new casino would not compensate for the resulting social ills from gambling, he added.

According to casino proponents, it is "hypocrisy" to allow certain forms of legalized gambling including national lottery, sports betting, and card-based lotteries while singling out casinos for criticism. Some 80% of Israelis participate in such legalized gambling, and the proceeds help support sports and cultural institutions around the country, they say.

The religious parties, which have rallied in the past to defeat casino bills, seemed poised to do so again, not only because of the dim view Jewish tradition takes of gambling, but also because of the social ills — addiction, financial ruin, family stress, crime, and prostitution — they fear would flourish alongside casinos.