The vote on casinos here in Sedgwick County, Kansas is fast approaching, and my sense is that for many there remain more questions than answers. For every statistical survey decrying the evils of gambling, there is a case study from some medium-sized Midwest town proclaiming its virtue.
So who is right? Who can you trust? More important, how do you determine the truth by the first Tuesday in August?
So I sat down to determine if I could come to any conclusions on my own. No studies, bent editorials or researched white papers — just me, a simple mind and some good old common sense. In the end, I employed the foolproof formula my grandpa always used — the smell test.
It occurs to me the tipping point for the value of casinos as a justifiable state sanctioned revenue generator lies in the nature of the mechanism of the transfer of private assets to public funds.
With casinos, the method of the transfer of money is risk. Whether it is a roll of the dice or crank of a lever, it involves subjecting personal wealth to a game of chance.
It is hard to dispute that casino gambling is a bad risk for the gambler. Sure, there may be a few who consistently win more money then they lose. But that is the exception. The fact that casinos are a viable money maker for the owner confirms the truth that more money is lost by gamblers than won.
But so what? What people do with their money whether by sport or investment is their business. I agree, with one exception. When the private assets of an individual are transferred to the public revenue of the state through government legislated and owned casinos, the merit of gambling as an acceptable risk becomes a community issue.
A virtuous nation cannot tolerate a state owned revenue raising program that operates on the premise of encouraging its citizens to take bad risks. In other words, when the mechanism providing the public benefit is a private loss, the process becomes ignoble. Gambling further twists the excellence of capitalism by providing the greatest reward to those taking no risk (the non-gambling public) while penalizing the individual gambler who takes the biggest risk.
Our country was built upon the strong and industrious backs of men and women who worked hard for every dollar they earned. When risk was required, it was measured by the calculations of supply and demand, not the roll of a marble on a roulette table. And when the legislature called for a percentage of those private funds to be transferred to the state for public benefit, it did so in a way that did not knowingly create pathological addiction, personal bankruptcy and broken families.
In the end, state endorsed and owned casinos violate the compact of trust between the government and the governed. Worse yet, they run contrary to the hard work and smart choices that are woven into the fabric of our American heritage.
And as my grandpa would probably say, “that just don’t smell right.”