Saturday's Washington Post reported that the principal backers of legalized gambling in Washington are well known investors who have good political connections. Most of the stockholders in Washington Jai Alai Corp. are cronies of Mayor Marion Barry and other political potentates.
I doubt that many people were surprised by that revelation. Even the unsophisticated among us recognize the difference between a genuinely spontaneous grass roots movement and a propaganda campaign that has been financed and orchestrated by political insiders.
Where gambling is illegal, those who engage in it as a business have a hard choice. If they do not pay bribes, they risk arrest for gambling. If they do pay bribes, they risk prosecution for a more serious offense.
As a result, illegal gambling must remain hidden. It can't openly look for you; you must look for it.
Where gambling has been made legal, it can "go public." It can use modern advertising and marketing techniques to attract customers.
Those who win gambling licenses have official permission, in effect, to pluck every goose they can lure into their trap. They can fleese every country yokel naive enough to hope he has a chance to beat the house. They can bankrupt every boob who thinks that God will single him out to be the lucky fellow who will win in spite of odds designed to make sure he loses.
Best of all, the activities of such gambling licensees will be supervised by their business partner, the government, which will see no conflict of interest in the arrangement.
The argument most frequently advanced in support of legalized gambling is,"People are going to gamble anyhow, so the government might as well get some revenue out of the activity."
The most frequently heard argument against legalized gambling is that it is immoral. Many clergymen oppose gambling on moral grounds.
Some laymen who have no moral objections to private gambling among friends are nevertheless opposed to legalized or public gambling.
They argue that everything in life is a gamble. Each person must make his own decision about the risks he elects to take or avoid. This is a private area into which the state should not intrude -- neither by forbidding risk-taking nor by encouraging it. Government has no right to interfer with private conduct; it should therefore refrain from harassing people who meet privately to engage in games of chance. Government has no right to encourage gambling or make it more readily available than it would otherwise be; it should therefore refrain from any action that sanctions, establishes, licenses or makes openly accessible a commercial gambling activity.
The difference between private and commercial gambling is too obvious to require a lengthy explanation. In a private game, what is lost by one player is won by another. As a group, the players lose nothing but their time. Nothing is siphoned off for the profit of outsiders, and nobody is enriched by arbitrarily imposed odds.
The entire structure of commercial gambling, on the other hand, is designed to make certain that more will be lost by the players than is won by them. Odds are arbitrarily set to favor the house.
Those who patronize commercialized gambling sheepishly concede that in the long run it is ruinous to bet against rigged odds. But they gamble anyhow.
Why? Because it's there. The state has brought gambling out of the closet. This attractive, exciting activity is public now -- not just open to view but readily accessible. When there is a lottery machine just around the corner or a gambling casino at the other end of a quick plane trip, even people who are fully familiar with the odds against them can't resist trying their luck. If the gambling facility hadn't been there, if it hadn't been made temptingly accessible, the fool and his money might not have been parted.
For those practical reasons, I am opposed to legalizing gambling. I am opposed to it for a moral reason as well.
I do not consider gamblers immoral. Foolish, yes; immoral, no. What concerns me is the immorality of the state.
When a state, for its own profit, suddenly legalizes an activity it punished as immoral for a century, the state and its for-hire moral code are seen to be the epitome of hypocrisy.
What will the next politically conceived need for additional revenue bring in its wake -- legalized prostitution? Legalized drug addiction? Legalized bank robbery? You can use the same argument to support the legalization of these activities that has been used to advocate legalized gambling: "People are going to patronize prostitutes, use drugs and rob banks anyhow, so we might as well tax these activities and get some revenue out of them." What nonsense!