Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Liberal Case Against Gambling

The interminable casino debate is in the news again. An Oklahoma tribe is suing over land that was allegedly taken from them in Stark County. They have stated publicly that they plan on erecting a casino on whatever land they might secure.

Setting aside the prospects of the Oklahoma Shawnee actually succeeding, this latest move has brought the simmering pot of gaming advocacy once again to boil.

I am against it. I am against it because I am a liberal. This, apparently, puts me in a minority. I am sharing this bed with the likes of George Voinivich, Ken Blackwell and Rod Parsley. We four don't agree on much.

But I think a strong liberal case against legal gaming can and should be made. Liberalism is not libertarianism. Instead, liberalism at its root is about social contract -- the idea that we are all in this together and that we each relinquish certain freedoms to make this enterprise called civilization work. This is an oversimplification, but I'm not here to discuss the Hobbesian roots of Rousseau or contrast Locke vs. Hume on property rights.

At its root, legal gaming is about allowing a set of corporations sell to consumers a product that harms them and harms society. We as liberals have advocated in the past against corporate profits derived from harmful products. In this case we have a product that has traditionally been proscribed and that can remain proscribed without disrupting society (unlike, say alcohol or tobacco.) In my mind, this is little different.

I haven't read extensively on the economics of gaming, but did a Google search and found this. Two stats under the second heading jump out -- 30-50 percent of casino profits come from problem or pathological gamblers and the bulk of casino revenues are from slot machines. Why as liberals do we want to bring into our state an industry whose business model depends on addiction?

Add to this the problems with the economics of casino gaming. The summary cited gives a good run down on the fairly limited economic benefits and the serious economic costs due to the associated social pathologies.

But what I worry about most is a stat I heard once about Wal-Mart (and have unsuccessfully searched for to cite.) It went something like this -- a person spending a hundred dollars on, say a radio at Wal-Mart puts something like 17 dollars in the local economy; at a locally owned store the figure is in the mid-forties.

We are unlikely to have an Ohio-based gaming industry. That means the money spent, er, lost in a casino leaves the state. And unlike the guy who drops a bill at BigBox, the gambler has nothing of use for his trouble -- no computer or clock radio or bicycle, nothing that has tangible value and that may even lead to productive economic activity. The gambler is simply left with a hole in his wallet and the itch to gamble again to win it all back.

This certainly is not the sort of activity that a healthy society encourages. And as liberals, the last thing we should be doing is giving corporations the green light to encourage it.


Anonymous said...

I completely and wholeheartedly support the efforts to
regulate online gambling because I feel that all humans should have the right to gamble from the comfort of their own homes without government involvement.