Mitch Daniels’s April 10 Wednesday Opinion essay, “States keep playing people for suckers,” reminded me of how disappointed I was when Maryland outlawed slot machines prevalent in barrooms. I was very young in the late 1950s and early 1960s and loved playing them with my dad. The slots ban was a moral issue because poor people were pouring money into slot machines instead of buying groceries or shoes for the kids. Evidently, that was worse than spending the money on the beer and cigarettes that were consumed in these places.
By the time of my first job, we were introduced to the Maryland Lottery. On payday, we stood in line for our pay envelopes containing cash. Each employee was asked how many lottery tickets he would like. Men who were earning $4 an hour would invest an hour’s worth of their labor. Now we have scratch-offs, nightly drawings, multistate mega-drawings and casinos, with sports betting to follow. Morality is now defined by who benefits from the vice. Regardless of how it is promoted, gambling benefits the state.
Then, as now, the lottery was touted as a critically needed source of funds for our schools, police and fire departments. Gambling is as exploitative and immoral as it was when I sat in Walker’s Tavern outside Baltimore and dropped nickels into a slot machine. Barkeeps and mobsters made no pretenses about the slot money that went into their pockets. But they did not present it as anything other than what it was: another vice to separate people from their money.
Edward Groh, Linthicum