It should come as little surprise that a politician would snap at a chance (pun intended) to make an easy million or two off of the rubes in his state. This politician is a supposed man of the people, as many Democrats wish to be pictured: Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) of Maryland, who has been lusting after legalizing slot machines in the Old Line State.
The Guv’s proposal to put the question before the voters simply reflects the difficulty in getting the Maryland legislature to pass the measure. Slots are not terribly popular with civic-minded liberals, which the Maryland legislature has quite a few of. Or at least they should not be. Why would a liberal reject an easy source of revenue? Because it comes from those least able to afford it: the stupid and the poor.
The stupid are those citizens who, against reason, insist that “luck will turn around” and that they are free to ignore the iron-clad fact that if you play the slots for a sufficiently long time, you will lose. The odds favor the house. Always have; always will.
Unfortunately, a lot of citizens who are not technically stupid seem to lose their smarts when faced with one of those one-armed bandits. I’m winning, can’t ya see; I’m on a roll…Until they start to lose, of course, at which time the tune becomes, “I’m about to turn my luck around…”
As for the poor, sometimes the allure of quick, unearned cash is beyond their ability to resist. It is these people that Democrats like O’Malley should protect by resisting slot machines. The poor, by which I mean those who have little to no disposable income; folks whom a dollar lost at the slots is a dollar less to feed their families or pay the rent or utilities. Slots, in different words, pose a harsh and regressive tax on the poor.
I’ve spent time in Las Vegas on business, and also done some very minor league gambling there. I can attest to the allure of the machines, all bright, glittery, and making those marvelous sounds when they pay off. I’ve also been fortunate in that I’ve had disposable income, and could mentally write off my losses as an entertainment expense.
I no longer gamble, unless one counts the daily crap shoot that is driving in and around Northern Virginia where I now live. Gambling is a vice; it can lead to no good. If you win, it’s not because of any merit on your part, and you are left with the message that some material things in life may be had for free.
But of course all those who gamble will lose over the course of time. The only questions are: how much will you lost, and who besides you will be hurt by it.
Libertarians may claim that people should be free to choose their entertainment so long as it does no harm to their fellow citizens. The problem with slots, as with all gambling, is that it does exact a price from all, especially from those least able to pay it.
There is a word for engaging in behavior guaranteed to hurt oneself: sin. It is a sin against God’s creation; an abuse of the gift of life that has been given us. It is a further sin, and perhaps even worse, to inflict this temptation on those unable to resist it.
I hope the people of Maryland will reject this attempt to elevate gambling further as a public project, a monument to a temptation for sin that we would all be better off without.