Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Gambling Ambivalence

Justin Katz has weighed in on the Rhode Island casino debate, but doesn't seem to be able to muster up the same sort of passion he usually exhibits on other issues, such as, say Andrew Sullivan. I think he essentially has the attitude of the majority in this case as I sense that most Rhode Islanders want to have the right to not only vote on the issue, but vote for the issue.
Gambling, of itself, isn't sinful as far as I'm concerned. Yes, having a somewhat addictive personality, I've noticed the aftertaste of the temptation that it represents. Yes, the first notable scene that I came across upon entering Foxwoods Casino's parking lot in Connecticut when I was in college was an older couple — cusp of retirement, I'd say — crying in each other's arms.

Still, a night of roulette, blackjack, and slot machines, with a reasonable expense cap, isn't wrong or corrosive in the way that a night costing the same amount at a brothel would be. For some patrons, the all-you-can-eat buffet is the more seductive opportunity for excess.

So, I've been more or less ambivalent about the matter of allowing a Rhode Island tribe to build a casino on its land.
As marijuana use, I think many view gambling as, if not a victimless "crime," at least a controllable vice. Justin seems a bit ambivalent on moral costs as well.
For one thing, I know families that have suffered the consequences of a gambling addiction facilitated by just the Jai Alai enterprise in Newport, so any state policy toward a full-blown casino can't stand on anti-gambling principle. If the objection is to the greater draw that a casino would have, then it seems to me that regulating size is the logical answer.

For another thing, as much as I don't believe gambling to be an undeniable sin, I'm not comfortable with governments' seeing it as a source of revenue. Whether or not a casino yields a public profit seems to me irrelevant to the yes/no question of whether one ought to be allowed in the state.

In a previous post I detailed the social and economic costs incurred by communities (in this case those home to the two casinos in neighboring Connecticut) that harbor gaming casinos. But Justin's reluctance to embrace gambling as a legitimate source of state revenue echoes my own feelings and has brought me to the realization that perhaps the best way to wage a battle against a casino is not from a moral, but from a political angle.

I still believe that the social costs are real. Yet, I also strongly believe that a central argument for or against a casino centers around the degree to which state revenue will rise or fall. This fosters a "quick-fix" attitude towards the "casino solution" in both the general population and the state government and is disheartening for a proponent of smaller, less involved government. So, perhaps the best argument I could muster would be from the ideological stance of handicapping Rhode Island's spendthrift government by voting for that side of the casino gambling issue that would leave it with the least amount of money at its disposal. If nothing else, we can be confident that the more money the General Assembly has at its disposal, the more money it will waste, including much that will be used towards patronage and, thus, the further entrenchment of the same old political actors.

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