On May 6 the citizens of Washington will vote in a referendum on legalizing gambling in the city. There is at least one compelling reason for all of us to vote yes.
Passage of the referendum would make greyhound racing legal here. And it is hard to imagine anything that would enrich the cultural, spiritual and intellectual life of the Nation's Capital more than a dog track.
Philistines who oppose legalized gambling do so most often on the grounds that it is a cruel ripoff of people who can least afford to lose. This argument does apply to lotteries, which encourage bettors to entertain visions of becoming instant millionairs, and thus to wager on a game that pays off worse than a rigged slot machine.
But there are forms of gambling that help uphold the Protestant Ethic. They reward skill, hard work, study and self-discipline. Greyhound racing is one such game; it is a game that can be beaten by astute handicappers.
To novices and casual dog track patrons, this statement may seem preposterous. The sight of eight dogs dashing madly around a quarter-mile track, bumping and knocking each other on their rear ends whenever they barrel around a turn, looks like utter chaos.
In fact, smart bettors perceive order in this. Dogs have definable and predictable running styles, so handicappers can learn their tendencies and anticipate the way a race is going to develop.
I know one professional dog bettor in Miami, and I listen with slack-jawed awe whenever he analyzes a race. He may say: "The 3 dog figures to break out into the 4; the 5 ought to take the 6, 7 and 8 to the outside fence at the turn; the 2 is strictly a rail runner and he ought to get through on the inside and win it." And races develop that way often enough for my acquaintance to make a very comfortable living betting the dogs.
Even though horse racing will always be the supreme game for serious handicappers, greyhound racing has a few advantages over the Sport of Kings. Perhaps because they are smaller and have fewer parts of their body that can malfunction, dogs tend to stay in form much longer than horses. They run with remarkable consistency.
Furthermore, dog racing is the most honest of all parimutuel sports. There are no conniving jockeys on the greyhounds' backs. And because the dogs are quarantined before a race, illegal drugs are not a serious problem in the sport as they are in horse racing.
Because it is such a fast, exciting gambling game, and because the economics of running a dog track are much more manageable than a horse track, the greyhound industry is booming. Dog tracks have succeeded spectacularly in such diverse places as Boston, Miami, Portland and West Memphis, Ark., and it seems inevitable that the sport will be introduced to this part of the country.
For once, perhaps, the District of Columbia ought to reap the financial benefits of parimutuel wagering instead of letting Maryland siphon off our money. If we have to pay taxes, we might as well do it in a way that returns us some excitement and intellectual stimulation.