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William Bennett, author of "The Book of Vir tues," has no problem spending $8 million of discretionary income on gambling.

The most serious problem with gambling is not the destruction of individual lives or families, but the threat it poses to our democracy. When democracy works, it can protect all families.

The Seneca Niagara Casino takes in about $1 million a day. The average gambler leaves behind $50 to $100 per visit. Even when it is discretionary income, it gives casino owners unlimited money to give politicians to simply look the other way and al low gamblers to do whatever they want.

With our governments at all levels struggling to find money for essential services, directing public funds for casino services, police, fire and social ser vices is a downhill slide.

Gov. George Pataki received $355,000 in 2001 from organizations and individuals interested in casinos. The gambling industry spent more than $3 million in 1999 to lobby Pataki and the State Legislature to ignore the State Constitution and permit casinos. Democracy at best is fragile. We must take it back. By not passing a budget on time again this year, the governor and the Legislature demonstrat ed that they can totally ignore the public.

North Tonawanda