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Friday, January 8, 2010

Hypocrisy of Keeping Sports Betting Illegal Seen in PA Allowing Table Games

Let's get this straight: I can now legally bet on a hand of Blackjack in Pennsylvania, but betting on a football game is still illegal. This is because somehow the NFL would be easier for me to corrupt than the dealer across the table from me making maybe $30 per hour? Or is it the puritanical BS that still thrives in this country, which says gambling will ruin my life?

But apparently it's ok if I ruin my life losing $100 in 20 minutes at the table as opposed to losing it over the course of 3 hours.

The hypocrisy that surrounds this issue only became a little more staggering with the legislation of table games like blackjack in Pennsylvania. The cover politicians afford themselves on this issue has become boring at best as they prattle on about pork spending in bills legalizing something that should never have been illegal in the first place.

As the worst economy in my lifetime shows no tangible signs of improving -- in fact, I'd like to thank the appropriate people for the near $70 increase in my supplemental coverage to Medicare -- it took months to pass a bill that creates jobs, infuses the system with millions of dollars that won't run out or even slow down in the worst of times, and finally allows people some of the freedom to do more of what they want with their entertainment dollar.

When the speeches and the debates for the TV cameras are over, the argument against legalizing sports betting is an absurd lunge for some ideal of a moral high ground that doesn't make sense. It might be necessary to read between the lines, but it's there.

In an article written earlier in the process when the state legislature was still debating whether or not to allow gaming tables, it was reported that "House Republicans contend too many problems still exist at the state’s Gaming Control Board to entertain another major expansion of wagering. . . . The lawmakers point to a series of blunders by the board, including the decision to grant a license to a local businessman now facing federal charges that he lied about his ties to organized crime. . . . 'Until the gaming control board is reformed, it’s my opinion we should not go head and expand into table games,' said state Rep. Curt Schroder, a Republican."

So, Pennsylvanians couldn't play blackjack because our brilliant elected officials couldn't control the Gaming Control Board? If we're using this logic we'd have to shut down . . . well, take your pick. What "control board" doesn't have too many problems? This is just one more way to skirt the issue.

An article running on Thursday said critics of allowing table games were now focusing on key issues, including "[p]reventing the controversial Foxwoods casino from getting a 19-month extension on its deadline for opening in South Philadelphia" and "[s]topping casinos from issuing lines of credit to gamblers on the spot."

The same article quotes Senator Michael Stack who voted against the bill to allow gaming tables as saying about Foxwoods, "It's bad business. If they're not ready to get going, their license should be revoked."

That's just stupid. It's bad business because they can't meet some arbitrary deadline? He doesn't want the gaming tables so he's making up an excuse instead of just saying what opponents really want to say -- gambling is morally wrong and the gates of hell are going to open up for those unsavory souls who partake.

Finally, the real issue almost saw the light of day. Buried in the article, Schroder comments on the unspeakable measure of gaming parlors offering . . . gasp . . . credit. "It makes it a more predatory industry."

No, actually, offering credit makes it an industry up to date for the 1970s, if not the 1870s.

But at least Schroder was hinting at the actual problem some have with the issue of gambling. The "Holier-than-thou" portion of our society has visions of the dad down the street going to the local gaming hole on Friday night and blowing his paycheck while little Joey and Peggy Sue sit with their mom praying he'll come home before they have to sell the house and go on welfare. So, by God, let's outlaw this damnation known as gambling.

And run to church for a nice game of bingo.

Bottom line, it's not the role of government to protect us from ourselves. Americans love to crow about being the land of the free and the greatest country on Earth. So, why is it Europeans can place a bet without feeling like they got away with something, but we can't? How have they allowed such predatory businesses to exist without falling into chaos or a continent of slums?

Probably the same way they've offered universal health care and found ways to make their disability communities more a part of society. But I digress.

Another recent article focused on the debate over gambling in New Hampshire read, "During his Nov. 18 presentation to lawmakers in Exeter, Las Vegas casino executive Bill Wortman cited positive testimonials about strong economic development and minimal crime impact from local officials in Washington County, Pa., where Wortman's Millennium Gaming runs the Meadows Race Track and Casino."

Then there was this on a website called philly2philly.com in a commentary opposing gambling: "When gaming came to Atlantic City in the late 70’s, there was a promise of a better Atlantic City - a safer town which was family oriented. While jobs were created, the city grew deadly because dangerous areas were kept in place and now it is almost unsafe to stroll the Atlantic City Boardwalk."

I can't help but notice that none of the arguments against allowing gambling ever discuss the act of putting money on the outcome of an event. I can only assume that's because even the staunchest critics of sports and other forms of gambling know it's an absurd argument to suggest it should be illegal. So they focus on all of the clich├ęd elements that supposedly surround gambling. Even those arguing for legalizing gambling have to point to the fact that the mob didn't move in next door in communities that took the obvious step of allowing people to gamble in a free country.

If state lotteries, racetracks, and table games like blackjack are legal, so too should be betting on sports. In fact, the reality is that legalizing sports gambling would likely eliminate some of the criminal activity associated with it.

If we want to put the sports bookies out of business, legalize betting on sports and, yes, allow it online. Betting sites use credit cards, meaning Tommy No-neck doesn't come looking to collect with a baseball bat (or worse). This is not a minor point. A guy (or woman) is more likely to control himself when actually depositing money into an online account in order to bet, as opposed to calling a bookie to say, "I got the Birds for a thousand," thinking he'll win the bet and never have to come up with the money he doesn't have.

The argument against legalizing gambling because it's a "predatory" business goes back to the idea of the father, or whomever, getting into financial distress through gambling. This doesn't hold up under any sort of scrutiny. The corner bookie is likely more predatory than any established business will be. People who cannot control themselves will have a better chance of being offered helped by a legal entity. And, even the local bookie isn't forcing people to make bets.

Besides that, are stores predatory because they accept credit cards? Of course not.

And, besides that, I don't think this country is supposed to be in the business of limiting freedoms because a few can't handle them.

Somehow gambling is lumped in with vices that people like to control - drinking, owning guns, and even smoking. In fact, gambling faces harsher restrictions than all of these based on outdated and simply incorrect notions, which may be the most absurd part of the laws against gambling.

No one ever died because a bet went off accidentally (or purposely), or because somebody bet too much before driving home, nor from secondhand smoke off a bet.

It's Friday night with the NFL playoffs set to kick off tomorrow. The radio airwaves and cable television have been filled with talk-show hosts picking games against the spread all day. Millions of dollars will be bet throughout the weekend, just like every other football weekend.

The time has long passed to stop demonizing people for having some fun putting a few bucks on the game. In fact, legalizing the activity could do plenty of good.

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