All Bets Are Off

Gambling is one of those issues where instead of having the traditional fights between those who want it and those who do not, there is a third party: the state. In every locality where gambling is allowed, wide-eyed politicians looking for tax money approach this issue with the utmost care. In their balancing game, they must be pioneers of the art of subtle manipulation. By resorting to empty statements and appealing to the "needs to the community," they embark on an idyllic journey that will take them to a "happy medium" in their jurisdiction.

When it comes to gambling, local and state governments have a lot to win: a steady flow of taxes. They bend over backwards to establish what they think is the proper size and location of gambling establishments. They allow some but reject others. In Louisiana, for example, gambling licenses are strictly regulated. New Orleans’ Harrah’s Casino was able to obtain one after much haggling with state legislators and city officials. They had to agree to certain conditions for the casino to be built.

Going beyond gambling licenses, what I find silliest is that in quite a number of states, most gambling must take place over water. The casinos in Gulf Port and Biloxi in Mississippi were severely damaged after Katrina. And while it literally took a hurricane for Mississippi to change that policy, let’s not think for a moment that they did it out of the kindness of their hearts. The state of Mississippi was losing half a million dollars per day from an industry that contributes almost 5 percent of the state’s budget. Mississippi finally allowed casinos to operate on land by allowing them to move 800 feet inland. The government watched out for its own health, yet it denies the same right to the people.

Yes, there are many who oppose gambling, whether it takes place over water or land. They claim that it corrupts the youth, creates addictions and endangers society. Yet this can be applied to anything else: drugs, pornography, prostitution, fast food, dark chocolate, a heavy foot on a sports car, watching ESPN, philatelic fetishes, gold hoarding, obsessive blogging, compulsive photography, selling items on eBay, posting comments on, exercising or even reading. These fears are not only irrational but they aim to replace personal responsibility and proper parenting with a few paragraphs written on a piece of paper, funded by theft and enforced by men with guns. Personally, I find that mentality a lot more dangerous than gambling. Mayors and governors should not be involved in parenting and must not attempt to inculcate family values.

When governments legislate responsibility away from individuals and families, we have problems. A society used to welfare, licenses and regulations, and prohibitions of every kind is a society where actions are not weighted against any moral virtue or sense of accomplishment or pride, but only whether it violates a law. If you are forced to behave in a certain way (under penalty of fine, jail or death), how can that be called "responsible" or "virtuous"? It cannot.

To the legislators: stay away from gambling. Your purpose is only to capture violent criminals. Let the consumers, the true sovereigns in the market, decide what is best for them. And to those opposed to gambling: realize that you are favoring the use of force against those who want to gamble. Just keep in mind that that same force will be used against you too some day. All bets are off when we empower the state.