Sunday, August 01, 2010

Deciding to Stay After Landing at Plymouth Rock Was Kind of a Gamble

Let me get this straight, Gov. Patrick. Three casinos and one slot machine parlor is just the right number of gambling hells for Massachusetts, but three casinos and TWO slot machine parlors are way too many?

We pause here for the first of the many WTFs our fine state's treatment of gambling always evokes from this blogger. The whole dance (it's an amazing feat when the parochial and venal folk dance that is the Legislature is only about the fifth stupidest part of a social and political issue) reminds one that the worst part of living here isn't the weather, or the traffic, but the enormous stick crammed up the small intestine of the body politic.

Legal gambling is no economic panacea. It makes a certain amount of money for the state and is labor-intensive, but it comes with costs. Connecticut, which has had casinos for a good while now, is seldom seen as paradise found.

On the other hand, neither has Connecticut declined into dystopia. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have left the Nutmeg State pretty much what it's always been -- a real boring place.

Then there's the notion that some forms of gambling are more socially harmful than others. This is a particularly rich notion coming from a government that operates about a dozen different lotteries -- the ultimate suckers' bet. Patrick, who's often sensible, seems in this case to harbor a delusionary classist vision of gambling, to wit: Casinos = James Bond and other rich guys in tuxedos playing baccarat. Slot machines = poverty-stricken old grannies frittering away the Social Security check.

Has Patrick ever been in a casino? They are all -- including the allegedly ritziest one in Monte Carlo -- dominated by the electronic bloops and wheeps of the one-armed bandits, which have become none-armed bandits.

Then there is the position of the Globe, which in its editorials, its columns and, sad to say, its reporting, has taken the basic position that gambling is icky. That's bold talk from a newspaper that runs the lottery numbers and sports betting lines in each freakin' edition it prints. In today's "news" story about the gambling bill, it was written that Patrick could alienate "supporters" by signing it. What supporters were those? The story didn't say, or quote any, so you may take it as given that "supporters" meant "The Boston Globe." Even in the extreme financial distress of an industry in chaos, the Globe can't shed its most irritating quality, pompous busybodydom.

My personal prejudice on legal gambling is this. Casinos bore me. You can't beat arithmetic, so why try? I like to go to the track, so I'm in favor of the slot parlors. My home state, Delaware, installed slots at Delaware Park, the state's only track, and converted it from a dying enterprise much like Suffolk Downs into a going concern. The fabric of Delaware life remains pleasant and sleepy, too, except for the traffic on I-95 near the track.

But as a philosophical matter, my position on legal gambling is "why the *&$! not?" Gambling is one of the human activities that can become addictive behavior. It can and does ruin lives. Howsomever, so are drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco, and society has long ago concluded that since activities can't be prevented, they must be regulated through law and social norms.

Such regulations work. There are way fewer smokers and drunk drivers than there were 20 years ago. There is no reason why gambling can't work the same way. Why gambling must be regulated MORE strictly than alcohol, tobacco (or firearms) escapes me. That idea can only be chalked up to the large stick discussed earlier in this post. Any minor quality of life issue that can be turned into some horrible "vice vs. virtue" debate always is.

Logic, not truth, is the first casualty of the gambling war. If people can play keno to their heart's content at every other packy and variety store in the Commonwealth, why the hell can't they play the slots at two places instead of one? Sign the damn bill, Governor. You have more important things to worry about.

Update: The Governor did not see fit to take my excellent advice. Congratulations, sir! You have moved that stick a few inches further up the Commonwealth's digestive tract. If you look closely up the state's nose, you can see it.


Post a Comment

<< Home