Politics & Other Mistakes: Reshuffle the deck

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Gambling isn’t among my many vices, but as a confirmed libertine, I have no objection to other people squandering their money by trying to disprove the law of averages.

I would, however, like to see the state grab a bigger share of the profits from those who take pleasure in losing their cash to slot machines, roulette wheels and card sharps.

But I’m still voting no on Question 1. This scuzzy referendum grants exclusive rights to build a casino in York County to an out-of-state speculator, and should serve as a warning that Maine’s method of deciding who can operate gaming facilities is defective. In essence, we throw a deck of cards in the air, and the ones that stick to somebody’s greased palm are the winners. It’s past time we instituted a system that allows the following people to gain licenses to run casinos:

Anyone who wants one.

Well, that is, anyone who has the upfront money.

This state’s current approach to the gambling industry is predicated on a couple of myths.

First is the idea that feeding quarters into one-armed bandits is inherently immoral. This is demonstrably false. Sexual harassment is immoral. Abusing children is immoral. Discriminating against people because of race, sex or religion is immoral. Putting pumpkin flavoring in beer isn’t immoral, but it is disgusting.

Games of chance have nothing in common with any of these acts.

Betting against the house may be stupid, but it harms no one except the bettor. While a small number of casino customers may have a gambling problem, that scarcely justifies preventing the majority from indulging in their idiocy of choice. We don’t outlaw booze because some drinkers are alcoholics. We don’t ban sugar because a lot of us are overweight. We don’t prohibit afternoon naps because of rampant laziness. Most people are capable of regulating their baser urges or accepting responsibility for the consequences.

The second myth that anti-gambling crusaders constantly cite is that the number of casinos must be regulated because the market for their offerings is limited. Too many houses of cards will result in some of them failing. The answer to this dilemma is simple:

Who cares?

The demand for convenience stores is limited, but their numbers aren’t capped. There appears to be an excess of fast-food restaurants, but I can’t see what concern it is of the government if some of them close abruptly. And nobody complains when another brewery opens, even though there are now at least two for every beer drinker in the state.

In all these areas, competition and the free market work admirably to balance supply and demand.

Gambling is no different. When there’s too much of it, the marketplace will let us know by causing some of them to go belly up. As long as the state treasury gets its share of the money upfront, that’s no big deal.

To make sure that happens, the Legislature should mandate an annual licensing fee for operating a casino that’s only slightly less expensive than funding a referendum. This payment should cover all the costs of regulation, traffic control and gambling addiction, with something left over for schools, veterans’ programs, elderly housing and town festivals with free doobies for residents 21 or older.

That’s not all. As is currently the case, a substantial portion of a casino’s revenues should be directed to the state’s general fund to help reduce the tax burden. Also, the gambling industry should be required to buy every kid in the state new sneakers at least twice a year.

Actually, this is more regulation than my libertarian leanings can tolerate. But the basic idea is sound. Casinos should pay for all their costs and provide some benefit to the public, aside from the pleasure their patrons take in throwing away their money. If that means we have to concede on the sneaker thing, I can live with that.

Besides all that income, there’s another major benefit to deregulating the gambling trade. We would no longer be plagued with political campaigns trying to convince us that allowing some sleazeball from away to open a casino is really about helping the poor, the downtrodden and the horse-racing industry. We could just be honest and admit that it’s really about allowing those who like to play games of chance to do so – and for those of us who prefer other vices to reap the benefits of those suckers’ lack of understanding of the odds.

I bet if you email me at aldiamon@herniahill.net, I’ll email you back.