Tuesday, November 16, 2004

From the Mail: On Gambling

Steve Thomas writes:

. . . I've been suspect of gambling for a while, on the first count, after reading of William Wilberforce's desire to stop the lottery as the second task on his list after the abolition of slavery in his country, and secondly, after seeing the lines of people waiting to get lottery tickets at a convenience store across from an old apartment of ours. Of course, there are lines of people for other things which I find perfectly harmless and even good, but droves of people waiting to spend their hard-earned dollars on, not aproduct nor an investment (like a business), but on a mere chance without other substance to it, "strikes me" as an industry bent on exploiting the citizenry. . . .

. . . I would be grateful if you would spell out your reasons against gambling in more detail, if doing so is convenient to you.

BV: I say why I am opposed to state-run lotteries here. As for gambling in general, I would say that it is a waste of time and money, contributes to dissolute behavior, and encourages irrationality. Even liberals appear to take a dim view of it, at least when it is convenient, as witness this remark of Frank Rich: "William Bennett's name is now as synonymous with Las Vegas as silicone." (NYT, 14 NOV 04, Section 2, p. 8, col. 1) I won't provide a link because an elaborate sign-in is required requesting all sorts of info, and the NYT is not worth it anyway. Rich's column in particular is pure crapola. Somebody ought to take it apart piece by piece.)

To ward off a (friendly) attack from
Bill Keezer, let me qualify the above remark. I mean it to apply to most people who gamble. I don't deny that a disciplined man like Keezer, who seeks respite from close analytic work, can profit (emotionally if not monetarily) from a bit of gambling. It's like strong drink: some people can handle it. But for others it's the devil in liquid form.

It's not an encouraging sign that casinos are springing up like mushrooms across the land, especially when the savings rate is as low as it is.

Should gambling be made illegal? I would say no. For one thing, criminalization would constitute a violation of individual liberty. Second, gambling would simply move underground with more crime a likely upshot.

State lotteries, however, ought to be eliminated. The state should not be in the business of promoting stupid and harmful behavior. To play a lottery is to voluntarily impose a tax on one's own stupidity. Here's my advice to the people who play lotteries. Quit the lottery, give up smoking, and stop buying newspapers. That should free up about $5 per day. Now take the $150 saved per month and apply it to your mortgage, thereby saving thousands and thousands of dollars in interest over the life of loan. But of course, anybody stupid enough to tax their own stupidity is unlikely to have a mortgage or the discipline to pay it down. . . .