A few days ago, Washington police closed down a carnival. They charged that illegal gambling games had operated there, and that some of the games were rigged.

Gambling odds are always shaded to favor the operator of the game. Greedy operators who are not satisfied with normal profits sometimes use gaffs (secret devices for cheating) that give the player no chance at all.

Crooked dice, marked cards, wheels with hidden braking devices, magnets that can be turned on and off by hidden electrical switches, and other types of crooked equipment are readily available from manufacturers who specialize in such wares.

Carnivals offer a variety of games. One uses weighted objects that can't be knocked off their perches. Another is a fishing tank in which there are no fish that bear the number that wins the big prize. Coin tosses and ring tosses that can't be beaten do a brisk business. In short, these are entertainments that entertain only the entrepreneurs who operate them.

(And don't make the mistake of calling them gamblers. Gambling is risky, and "the house" doesn't like to take risks. It wants you to take risks.)

There are several good reasons for not putting government into the gambling business. The prevalence of cheating is one of those reasons.

Wherever money changes hands rapidly, you can bet that somebody will sit up all night to figure out a way to get a chunk of it dishonestly. The race track "bell ringers" Andy Beyer wrote about on Monday are a good example.

I am glad that voters here turned down the very bad gambling proposal that was put before them. At some future time, they may pass a limited law, one that merely leaglizes a government-run lottery and private "social" games in which there is no rake-off for an operator. No jai alai, no dog tracks, no casinos and no "charity" games run by professionals.

If such a law were to pass, I would not worry too much about it.

Any gambling attracts cheaters and racketeers. Even private "social" gambling sometimes engenders arguments that lead to antisocial stabbings and shootings. So there is some degree of risk in approving even mild forms of gambling.

However, states have managed to maintain the integrity of their lotteries. And lotteries do bring in welcome revenue. A reasonably good argument can be made for a lottery in the District of Columbia because Maryland now drains so many dollars out of Washington. I do not favor a lottery, but neither do I see a compelling reason for waging an all-out battle to oppose one. In the long run, nothing government does or refrains from doing can prevent a fool and his moeny from parting company.

If a simple and limited lottery bill is even proposed here, I suspect it will generate very little enthusiasm among those who were so eager to raise revenue for the District of Columbia with their jai-alai-dog-track proposal. If there's nothing in it for them, their fervor for civic duty and helping the city raise revenue may suddenly disappear in a puff of smoke. FIRST EDITION BLUES

A recent sports section picture showed a tennis player prone on the court. The line beneath the picture explained, "John McEnroe lie on court after lunging after shot by Jimmy Connors that a clear winner."

Marie Chappars of Chincoteague couldn't resist the urge to give us a gentle, ladylike needle about it.

If you're wondering how mix-ups of this kind get into our paper, note two things: Humans do make occasional "keyboarding" errors. And it takes longer to transport newspapers from Washington to Chincoteague than from Washington to Georgetown. As a result, papers headed for distant points must get an early start. Chincoteague subscribers get an early edition.

We try to make that early edition as error-free as the later ones, but it just doesn't work out that way.

That's because we keep finding and correcting errors throughout the press run. Therefore, by the very nature of things, the greatest number of errors will be in the first edition, the smallest number in the last edition.

I realize that my explanation is of little comfort to a subscriber annoyed by errors, but I want you to know that we do care about these things.

We wince when we see them, and we hasten to correct them. ADD DEFINITIONS

"Inflation," notes Dr. James S. Reid, "is when you're simultaneously paying off a 6 percent mortgage and a 14 percent home improvement loan." VAGRANT THOUGHT

Isn't it strange that each month we cut back a little more on our driving and each month our gasoline bill mounts a little higher?