October 2009

Gambling: a tax, an addiction, but not a game

By Galen Larson

Recently I read an article touting the education of trained pickpockets. But they didn’t call them that, they called them casino workers. The feature told about the benefits of a business that trains people to deal cards. When did gambling become so respectable? Is it now considered a profession right up there with being a doctor or an accountant?

Gambling started across the nation as a lottery, or as it was called in many cities, the numbers racket — illegal, run by the Mafia, and hotly pursued by law enforcement. How did this illegal act become a source of revenue for politicians and state governments? I remember when bars and clubs had the pull tabs and legion Elks had the slots. My goodness, we couldn’t stand for that! Police raided clubs across the nation and there were pictures on the front page of newspapers showing bulldozers crushing those evil gambling devices. Of course, in that case, the politicians never received any of the gains — instead, they went to help the communities. After all the selfrighteous settled down, the politicians decided that gambling was a clever way to tax the people without calling it a tax. What a revelation! Money would pour into the state and city coffers and it was all “voluntary.” No one could label it a tax on the poor, which is something that people would have decried.

Then they changed the name to “gaming.” (Isn’t it strange how changing the name of something can make it acceptable? Consider “manure” vs. “shit.” Refined ladies would never put their dainty hands in the latter but have no problem spreading the former on their flowerbeds.)

Why is it when people are pushing for gambling in their county, state or area, they call it “gaming,” and when people lose job, home, savings or marriage, to say nothing of necessities for their children, it’s “gambling,” as in a gambling addiction?

We are greatly concerned about drug addiction, whether it’s to prescription pills or illegal substances. We use the full force of law enforcement to attack drug addiction and to at least curb alcohol addiction and drunk driving. Yet, on the other hand, greedy governments actively promote gambling, which often turns into an addiction. We are deluged with advertisements showing people enjoying themselves in an atmosphere of fun and flaunting their fabulous winnings. There aren’t any ads picturing the person trying to catch a ride home after losing everything.

The politicians fostered the lottery on us gradually, like weeds in a field. How could anyone in good conscience not accept a program to help the Great Outdoors? If officials had proposed a tax for parks or recreation we would have squealed like a pig under a gate. We even object to taxes to fix roads. But a voluntary tax that only “losers” would pay? We could accept that!

As we became lackadaisical about the lottery, we were easily led to accept more and more casinos. We were told only of the benefits: fun! excitement! jobs! And if some people became addicted, not to worry. We had just created more jobs with the necessity for counselors of all types. It’s like cheering on cancer to create employment for doctors but at the painful anguish of others.

I once took my father on a tour of Las Vegas. When we finished I asked him what he thought. “Sure took a lot of losers to build this place,” he replied, and never placed a bet. It wasn’t that he didn’t gamble, as he was a farmer, and we all know what a gamble that is. But he bet on himself and he was in control.

Do I believe all gambling can be eradicated? No more than the Pope. But I think for the betterment of the nation it should have stayed in Las Vegas and the churches. And we should be honest about it. Gaming is gambling, no matter how you paint it, and a state lottery is just another way to suck money from the pockets of those who can least afford to lose it.

Galen Larson writes from rural Montezuma County, Colo.