As part of Monday’s pre-election coverage on NCPR David Chanatry explored an interesting question: “Casinos: how did we get here from Las Vegas?” Here’s how he framed it:
If you’re a person of a certain age—say about 50—you’ll remember when going to the casino meant a trip all the way to Las Vegas. It seems almost quaint now, but just a generation ago, casinos were outlawed in 49 of 50 states. Only Nevada allowed legalized gambling.
Then, in 1978, amid great controversy, New Jersey decided to authorize a casino in hopes of rejuvenating the faded resort town of Atlantic City
The next day voters in New York approved a constitutional amendment that will permit more casinos in their state.
I am a person of a certain age and I hail from one of the last two states to prohibit all forms of gambling.
Gambling gets re-hashed at practically every session of Hawaii’s state legislature. And it’s funny, because for many decades now the number one visitor destination for Hawaii residents is said to be…Las Vegas. (They aren’t going to enjoy hikes in the desert.)
Why the double standard? My theory goes like this: the cost of living in Hawaii is quite high. Given the chance to solve money woes by chasing lady luck, the powers-that-be suspect Hawaii’s poor might squander the rent, desperately trying to change their circumstances. It’s too dangerous.
Getting to Las Vegas from Hawaii takes something in the range of $600 or more (per person), a minimal stake that acts as a safety valve. The got-nothing-to-spare set has to stay home. Of course there’s still plenty of illegal gambling in the islands and office football pools are perfectly common, if technically illegal.
When we moved to Ontario back in 1999 I remember being quite offended by a word problem on calculating odds in our son’s grade school textbook. (Yes, there’s an element of math in gambling, but how dare the school board normalize…oh, yeah. That IS normal here!)
It took me a few years to buy my first lottery ticket, which still felt illicit. If I had personal qualms, why did I try it? Well, because I could, I suppose. Because my inability to buy one had become residual principle mixed with ingrained fear. I had to make sure my choice wasn’t ruled by cowardice.
Having run into few forms of mild addiction in my time (hello chocolate!) I apply some caution to new experiences. The seductively enticing game of Tetris has given me grief. (So many hours wasted, muttering: “Just one more game to break my score and I’ll step away from the computer.” Shades of “get thee behind me, Satan!”)
When it came to lotteries, thinking about temptation, goals and outcomes seemed worthwhile. It turned out I could easily ignore all lotteries – until there was a huge pot with a lot of buzz. At which point, I’d occasionally buy a ticket, on the true (but incomplete) notion “you can’t win unless you play.”
Eventually I abandoned even that. I concluded that winning half a million might be great. You know, kill the mortgage, enjoy more travel. But winning $50 million could be a real disaster. (Friendships might founder. One might be buffeted by demands. My own greed could run wild. Yuck.)
Most readers are probably willing to run the risk of landing a mega-jackpot! A big win does not have to be a dark cloud wrapped in a silver lining. But – for me – the happiness of ordinary circumstances seems more reliable than the swings of huge financial change. I haven’t bought a lottery ticket in years.
Mind you, lots of folks know how to manage gambling as harmless entertainment. I see friends who earmark a modest, fixed amount. They spend an occasional evening at a casino using that up — that much and no more, win or lose. Having had their fun, they go home, satisfied. It can be done.
And yet, I find it very difficult to adjust to the new normal, where gambling (or the industry-preferred term of gaming) is concerned. It still feels funny, not quite right.
Oh, I get the arguments: “people have the right to choose their actions”, “gambling will happen whether it’s legal or not”, “why not use profits for social good rather than let shady mobsters have it?” and “it’s hardly different than drinking, also regulated and taxed by government.”
Having said all that, I’m still uncomfortable when government actually encourages, sponsors – whatever you want to call it – vice.
That’s a strong word, proof of my own stodgy, Puritanical background. But I struggle to see gambling in positive terms. To me it’s sort of like obesity: very common and clearly on the rise. Not something to criminalize! Both obesity and gambling seem contrary to optimal health.
How do you square the contradiction of government encouraging us to reduce our intake of salt or sugar – while opening more casinos?
How do you handle any temptations gambling may present?
Lastly, if you like lotteries, what’s a good sum you could enjoy winning?
That’s an area where Canadians come out ahead, their lottery winnings are tax-free!