Gambling with Personal Freedom

Whenever I hear the word “family” in the name of an organization, I can pretty much assume that it means trouble. Virtually all such organizations want to prevent gay people from having families. Today, however, I will be discussing some activism by a “pro-family” group that is less nefarious than gay bashing but still dangerous. “Family-centric” groups are urging Congress to prevent individual states from legalizing Internet gambling. The article describing this push from conservative groups can be found here: (http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2012/06/06/20120606family-groups-target-internet-gambling.html) According to the article, these activists warn that, “the societal costs will far outweigh the benefit to tax coffers.” And herein lies the first problem. We must stop thinking of the issue of legalization of gambling primarily in terms of the tax revenue it can bring. We should think of it primarily as an expansion of individuals’ right to free choice. Gambling that involves force or fraud is immoral and should be banned. Yet anti-gambling crusaders will not stop there. Nor are they willing to attempt to persuade people to choose to give up gambling. Instead, they want the government to run people’s lives. One of the prime arguments cited by the groups pushing for Congress to keep heavy restrictions on gambling is that gambling hurts families, because it causes parents to lose money. Certainly, some families go broke because adults blow all their money at the blackjack table, and that is a real tragedy that should not be made light of. But let’s be realistic. The people gambling on the Internet and in casinos do not have guns pointed at them. Unless the games are rigged, the people playing are not having money stolen from them; they are giving their money away. Let’s say that a man from a middle class family does not have an uncontrollable, clinical addiction to gambling but decides to risk his life savings in online poker in order to have a chance at “hitting it big.” Now, let’s say that this man ends up losing everything in the game, and he and his family are left destitute. Isn’t that his fault, since he chose to gamble his money, knowing that he might lose it? What about cases where people are truly addicted and can’t stop gambling, whether they want to or not? Such people deserve our full sympathy, as well as whatever therapy is available. But again, can this be blamed on the companies that promote gambling? By that logic, we should blame malls for the fact that people get addicted to shopping and bars for the fact that people get addicted to alcohol. It is ironic to hear conservatives calling for a ban on gambling in order to prevent people from becoming poor. Conservatives are supposed to be defenders of capitalism. Yet a fundamental part of a capitalist economy is that people are free to take risks with their money and live with the consequences. Would the conservatives opposed to legalization of gambling support a ban on investing in the stock market? After all, the stock market is basically a glorified casino. You might get rich by investing, or you might end up on the street. Why is it considered a fulfillment of the American Dream to make a fortune in the stock market, while gambling is frowned upon? For the record, I am neither opposed to nor in favor of gambling. I do not consider it immoral, because it does not automatically hurt anyone. Gambling more than you can afford to lose, however, is never a good idea, whether in a casino or in the stock market. I personally do not plan to gamble, because I can be obsessive compulsive, and I know this puts me at greater risk of developing an addiction. Yet this is a personal choice. I also don’t watch football, but I’m not going to try and ban it. On a final note, a related issue is the matter of gambling on Native American reservations. This is even more cut and dry. Most Native American tribes have been reduced to poverty by the conquest and subjugation of the federal government. Tribes that surrendered, meaning pretty much every tribe except for the Seminoles, put their fate in the hands of Uncle Sam and were betrayed. These tribes deserve their sovereignty. And if they wish to make money to support themselves by operating casinos, they have every right to do so.  

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