Gamblers Win, Public Loses

By William Safire Copyright New York Times News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 24, 1996 | Go to article overview

Gamblers Win, Public Loses


William Safire Copyright New York Times News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The gamblers won a ballot initiative in Arizona, where voters called on the governor to sign a casino deal with Indian tribes - though he gutsily says he won't. And in Detroit, citizens fearful of losing business to a casino in Ontario voted to build a defensive one of their very own. That's two scores for the crapshooters.

But elsewhere across the country, the moral blight of organized, big-league casino and riverboat gambling - and the public disgrace of state-sponsored gambling - took a licking from people who have grown tired of being taken for suckers.

Despite more than $4 million spent by casino operators, gambling industry PACs and unionized croupiers, the voters in 23 elections and referendums decisively defeated proposals to make the get-rich-quick philosophy - with transfixed players tugging ever-hopefully at the one-armed bandits - their local way of life. Why? One reason is that experience has shown the promise of state-sponsored lotteries - that the proceeds would be used for more or better education - is a fraud. Money is fungible; when the state or city raises money "painlessly," from public or private gambling, some of that money is ostentatiously set aside for schools - but legislators soon treat that as a replacement for funds previously voted for education. Another reason for the gambling defeats is bipartisan shame. Liberals are ashamed of raising money regressively, preying on those who can least afford to lose. Conservatives are ashamed of allowing government actively to encourage an ancient vice and exploit a human weakness. Up to now, the nation's anti-gambling majority has been afflicted with "pluralistic ignorance" - not realizing it is a majority. That's ending because rampant casino-ism in Las Vegas and Atlantic City is competing with the tax-avoiding palaces of glitz operated by real and phony Indian tribes, and their market appears to be reaching the saturation point. Even the largest supplier of lottery equipment noted a 10 percent drop in sales and admitted to Adam Nossiter of The New York Times that "public support of legalized gaming may be waning. …

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