A friend who sometimes becomes impatient with me zapped me with a spirited monologue the other day. The monologue went like this:
"What are you going to write about the District's gambling referendum? No doubt you'll be against it. You've always been opposed to commercialized gambling.
"Well, let me tell you something. You'll be on the right side of this issue, but for the wrong reason.
"You take the idealistic position that gambling takes money out of the pockets of the people who can least afford to lose it, therefore gambling is bad. This is foolish.
"Poor people need a chance to dream of hitting it rich. If they can't find a legal means of satisfying their need, they'll find an illegal means. If they can't play the numbers in D.C., they'll go out to the District line and play them in Maryland. Or they'll buy a lottery ticket.
"It's true that, on the whole, those who play lose. But they're going to play anyhow, regardless of what the law permits. No force on earth can protect a fool from the consequences of his own folly.
"What's more, it is silly of you to say the state shouldn't be a partner in gambling games, tempting people to play, or even urging people to play as they do in Maryland now.
"The state isn't the guardian of our morals. It has no right to tell us what to do with our money.
"And as a practical man you should realize that District residents are betting their money anyhow, either legally in Maryland or illegally right here in Washington, and none of this betting is producing a penny of revenue for the District. So it is obvious that the District government must in self-defense, get its share of the profits."
I tried to break in with a rebuttal, but my friend held up his hand in a gesture that said, "Let me finish," so I held my tongue.
"It is naive of you to oppose gambling in the District for the reasons that you think are important," my friend said. "But you would be right to oppose this particular bill. Do you know why?"
"Why?" I asked.
"Because this bill would permit jai alai and dog racing and other things that are being pushed very hard by people who stand to make a ton of money as owners of dog tracks and jai alai frontons.
"These private entrepreneurs would siphon off a tremendous percentage of the profits from jai alai and racing, whereas lottery profits and numbers profits would go almost entirely to the District treasury. That's why I say you ought to favor gambling here as a revenue-raising measure. but you should not favor this particular proposition because most of the activities it legalizes will enrich private promoters rather than the District government. I don't mind letting foolish people lose their money; I just want them to lose it to the District treasury instead of to the people who own gambling facilities."
He has a point. I oppose all commercial gambling, not just the District's limited version, because "house" odds are always heavily against those who wager, even when the game is honestly run. When one adds the element of larcency, the better has no chance at all. He can't cope with crooked dice, marked cards, gaffed wheels, drugged horses, fighters who "go in the tank," ballplayers who "shave points," or jockeys who do everything but choke their horses because there's a ticket on the winner in their boots. The swindlers don't believe in giving a sucker an even break.
Legalized gambling is good for the moneymen who pressure for legalization
It's good for horse owners and dog owner and prize fight managers and almost everybody else you can think of -- but not for bettors. And who cares what happens to them? POSTSCRIPT
Incidentally, after our racing maven wrote that dog racing gives bettors a better chance of winning than horse racing does (the dogs don't have crooked jockeys), animal lovers and humane societies protested. They alleged that brutal and inhumane techniques are used to train greyhounds, and that thousands of rabbits are tortured and mistreated in the training process.
These complaints were dismissed rather airily by our writer.
Personally, I would like to know whether the allegations of brutality have any substance. I think The Washington Post could have performed a useful service for the community by assigning a good investigative reporter to the story and by printing his findings before, not after, people cast their ballots.
On the other hand, there may be little point in learning what the facts are.
Most people seem strongly in favor of leagalized gambling. They just can't wait to begin losing their money and enriching the gambling promoters.