The casino down the street
Down here in Texas, legislators are casting a covetous eye toward adjacent states like Oklahoma and Louisiana, where, according to proponents of the gaming industry, the parking lots of their casinos are filled with cars bearing Texas license plates.
Down here in Texas, legislators are casting a covetous eye toward adjacent states like Oklahoma and Louisiana, where, according to proponents of the gaming industry, the parking lots of their casinos are filled with cars bearing Texas license plates. And those states' coffers are generously augmented by a cut of the gambling proceeds, money that might have stayed in Texas.
On April 8, representatives of a number of gambling corporations -- "gambling" is probably more precise than "gaming" -- testified before a state House committee in a packed hearing room in support of several bills that would permit various forms of casino gambling in Texas.
This issue comes up periodically, and I suspect that eventually Texas will have casino gambling. In fact, maybe the time has come.
A recent poll indicates that almost 70 percent of Texans favor permitting casinos to operate in the state. And after years of resistance by moral elements -- Baptists, especially, were put off by the idea of gambling -- Texas started a state-run lottery in 1992, essentially destroying any public moral rationale for opposition to casinos.
With the proliferation of casinos and lotteries in many states, the explosion in sports gambling and poker, and ever-increasing gambling opportunities on the Internet, more gambling in Texas wouldn't amount to much more than a modest ripple in the great surge of wagering washing over the nation.
It's interesting to note that, especially in a conservative state like Texas, many of us are only a generation or two removed from ancestors who consigned all games of chance to a moral category that included drunkenness, sexual immodesty, and other milder iniquities.
My own parents, for example, rejected all forms of gambling on moral grounds, even raffles for charitable purposes. And their parents wouldn't allow a deck of playing cards in their homes, at all, even for "innocent" games like bridge or spades, where no money changed hands.
But opposition to gambling on moral grounds is pretty much a non-starter these days. And, to tell the truth, I'm happy enough that places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City exist in our nation, places where people can go when they want to test the strength of the moral cords that generally bind them in their ordinary lives.
Gambling and self-indulgence make cozy partners. Las Vegas is a place to let yourself go, to eat more, drink more, spend more, and generally take more risks with your money and your morals that you would ordinarily at home. It's a place to get married and divorced on short notice. And it's no coincidence that prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada and very popular in Las Vegas.
Such places serve a purpose, but we should be certain that we know what we're letting ourselves in for as we construct more and more casinos closer to home. It's one thing to go to Las Vegas twice a year; it's another to have a casino right down the street.
Of course, it's not really my business if you want to gamble with your money. But all legal gambling is state-sponsored, in that states initiate and encourage it, as in the case of state lotteries, or they permit it, as in the case of private casinos and other forms of gambling. And they derive considerable profit from it. Therefore, state lotteries and even casinos, as sources of public money, become matters of public policy.
At the heart of that policy are values that are entirely antithetical to the ones that we like to think of as thoroughly American, values like hard work, prudence, thrift, self-reliance, and an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.
Instead, lotteries and casinos value irrational risk taking and something-for-nothing, get-rich-quick schemes that promise a disproportionate reward for a minimal investment.
Come to think of it, isn't that how our economy got into so much trouble in the first place?
-- Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Texas.