I have been asked to give my thoughts on gambling, which like most anything that rolls around in my head, I am happy to share. My particular animus is against state-sponsored gambling, i.e. lotteries, in which the general populace gangs up on the poor, gullible and stupid in the name of “education” or some other unassailable public good. This nostrum is nothing more than a regressive tax and an opiate for those least in need of opiating.
Though I find gambling in general personally unamusing and a waste of time and money, I feel that way about a lot of things – like video games – which most people seem to derive pleasure from, so I do not seek to impose my personal taste upon the wagering masses, for the great majority of whom gambling is just another form of entertainment and comes with no expectation of a life-changing bonanza. There is always the danger of gambling addiction to consider, but there is danger of addiction to consider for most every human endeavor.
Here, then, are my thoughts on state-sponsored gambling – an immoral blight upon the landscape:
Gambling is the entertainment growth industry in this country. Before the late-1980s, legalized casinos existed in Nevada and Atlantic City. Now casinos are legal in 28 states. After a lengthy prohibition, lotteries returned to the US in 1964 – Ohio joined the stampede in 1973. Today, 37 states plus the District of Columbia run lotteries, and 48 states have some form of legalized gambling. You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your ergonomic computer chair to gamble: as of mid-1999, there were over 250 casino Internet sites, and 139 Internet sports books.
In 1998, Americans spent around 50 billion dollars on gambling, more than on recorded music, amusement parks, movie tickets, spectator sports and video games combined.
Are we a nation of suckers? Surely people have something better to do with their spare time: volunteer at a soup kitchen, give blood, run for office, lift weights, juggle, blow glass, raise chinchillas, even golf is a better use of time than gambling.
And as to alternative ways to spend your money, here’s an idea: buy things. It helps keep your friends, neighbors and countrymen gainfully employed; keeps your house from looking empty, and makes your job seem less a waste of time.
I fail to see how risking your hard-earned money on the outcome of a sporting event, the random machinations of a slot machine, or the numerical suicide of a lottery makes life more interesting. At least card playing involves skill – the odds can be changed in the player’s favor by his own intelligence, discipline and intuition. But the casinos don’t like it when you win: what other recreational activity can you be barred from for being too good?
“I’m sorry sir, that’s your fifth strike in a row, you are no longer welcome to bowl here.”
“Mam, you seem to know how to set up a tent, you can’t camp in this park.”
Gambling in general is a sucker’s game, but the lottery – run by your government and mine – is the worst bet of all. Someone will win, but it almost certainly won’t be you. The odds are better of dying from flesh-eating bacteria than winning the Super Lotto. If you bought 100 tickets a week from age 18 to age 75, you would still have only a 1% chance of winning.
For virtually all of us, life itself is the only Super Lotto we’re going to win: you’ve beaten staggering odds simply coming into existence – you will not beat those kinds of odds again.
Besides giving the populace the unproductive message that the good life is more dependent upon luck than upon hard work and education, the lottery is also bad fiscal policy: it doesn’t generate new money for schools or anything else, it just rearranges the way government collects revenues in a dishonest and unfair manner.
It gets worse: not only does the government run the game, Ohio spent $21.3 million dollars last year on omnipresent advertising to lure people into playing. While Ohio also receives revenue from alcohol and tobacco sales, I don’t foresee the state launching a pro-booze and butts campaign. Talk about regressive: the lottery is a tax on ignorance, and ignorant people have enough going against them already without being actively encouraged to gamble.
If you want to waste your time and money on gambling, that’s your business. I’m a social libertarian at heart – I think drugs and prostitution should be legal, regulated and taxed too. But my government should get out of the vice business, and failing the courage to do that, should have the decency to stop preying upon its weakest with snappy songs and lying visions of easy street.
Do I feel lucky today?
No, I feel disgusted.