Wagers of Sin

The not-so-secret agenda of America's anti-gambling guru

Freedom can hardly be used very freely when a person's mind and spirit have been warped by a system which limits the range of his choices in order to maintain itself. That is, you're hardly exercising a real choice by picking among a set of gimmicks promoted by business to make you feel you have a choice.

--Robert Goodman, After the Planners (1971)

Legalized gambling is a highly controlled, monopolistic business that preys on the most vulnerable people in our society. There is hardly much free choice when jobs are scarce or don't pay well, and when government and private casino companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on behavior modification studies and advertising to tell people they can change their lives through gambling.

--Robert Goodman, The Luck Business (1995)

When the first of these passages was written, Robert Goodman was a self-described radical architect who was busy waging "guerrilla architecture...to promote the political consciousness of the people" and to "expose the repression of the established order." By the time the second passage appeared two-and-a-half decades later, Goodman had emerged as one of the most articulate, respected, and ardent opponents of the next great vice to come under intensive governmental scrutiny: legalized gambling.

One might think that Goodman's interests and objectives had changed substantially between his days as a revolutionary firebrand and a sober analyst, but as the passages quoted above suggest, there is a common thread: Robert Goodman's writings are a testament to his lifelong hostility to private property, the free market, and the idea that average people can be trusted to know what's best for them.

Yet since its publication two years ago, The Luck Business: The Devastating Consequences and Broken Promises of America's Gambling Explosion has become the bible of the national anti-gambling movement and a standard reference for journalists and politicians on both ends of the political spectrum. The cover of the paperback edition displays fulsome panegyrics from the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, The Washington Monthly, and The New York Review of Books. As co-sponsors of the 1996 bill that established the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, charged with investigating the social and economic effects of legal wagering, conservative Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and liberal Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) both cited chapter and verse from The Luck Business in numerous speeches before Congress.

Although he will have no official role on the federal gambling commission, which is just beginning its two-year inquiry into state-sponsored, commercial, Native American, philanthropic, and charitable gambling, Goodman's intellectual presence will be felt strongly. Indeed, Congress created the panel last summer after Goodman promoted the idea in The Luck Business.

It is easy to see why anti-gambling partisans--including conservatives who view gambling as immoral--would embrace Robert Goodman's writings. Much of the public debate over gambling focuses not on the question of whether people should be free to gamble but on how legal gambling enterprises affect state and local economies. There is by now a good deal of evidence to suggest that legalized gambling has led to job creation, enhancement of tax revenues, and the revitalization of depressed local economies. To cite one example, a June 1997 report on the effects of legalized gambling in Connecticut prepared by a consulting firm, the WEFA Group, concluded that "legalized gambling, primarily at Native American casinos, has been an economic engine for the State." According to the report, between 1991 and 1996, legalized gambling was responsible for a net increase of more than 22,000 jobs, which produced a $619 million net increase in wages and salaries.

Goodman, however, insists that nearly all of the economic benefits that are supposed to flow from casinos are illusory, while their social and economic costs are enormous. That this catastrophe-in-the-making has gone unrecognized is due in large measure, he avers, to the skillful waging of a massive propaganda campaign by the well-heeled gaming industry, which has managed to bamboozle gullible politicians into believing that gambling is a panacea for their states' economic woes.

According to Goodman, the consequences of this deception have been staggering: Local businesses are destroyed as gambling siphons away consumer dollars. State funds that could otherwise be used to support "industrial extension programs" are instead spent on advertisements aimed at enticing "the most vulnerable people in our society" to squander their hard-earned money on games of chance. As a consequence, claims Goodman, hundreds of thousands of people eventually become addicted to gambling, which leads to alcoholism, child neglect, poor job performance, family break-up, financial ruin, and even suicide. Young people are socialized in a culture of gambling, producing an explosion of illegal underage gambling and a new generation of compulsive gamblers.

Goodman's one-sided view of gambling's effects is echoed by advocacy groups such as the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. But Goodman insists that he is no mere political activist who is pushing an agenda. He means to be taken more seriously than that. During an appearance at the National Press Foundation in Arlington, Virginia, in January, he took issue with those who have described him as a journalist. "I am a researcher," Goodman declared.

But that assertion is strongly disputed by a number of prominent scholars who specialize in gambling studies and who question his bona fides (though the 60-year-old Goodman teaches environmental design at Hampshire College, he holds no advanced degrees). "Goodman is certainly not a researcher or an economist," says William Eadington, an economist who directs the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno. "He's a compiler, and very much a journalist." Goodman's work is "not based on accepted economic theory," says economist Gabrielle Brenner of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales in Montreal. "He doesn't seem to understand the most basic principles of consumer economics." Writing in the Journal of Macromarketing, David Rados of Vanderbilt University described The Luck Business as "a Halloween book, one that aims to frighten the reader but is marred by one-sided and incomplete arguments that will convince only the credulous." Experts in the field of gambling studies also note Goodman's failure to publish in peer-reviewed journals or appear at academic meetings.

Richard McGowan, a professor of economics at Boston College and a Jesuit priest, calls Goodman an "anti-gambling ideologue" who poses interesting questions about the societal impact of gambling but whose conclusions are based solely on personal bias. Goodman's work on gambling is case-oriented, which is a far cry from traditional economic analysis, McGowan explains. Modern economists who wish to study the economic impact of some phenomenon typically employ sophisticated quantitative methods, such as time-series analysis, regression analysis, and various types of formal modeling. In contrast, Goodman's method consists of selecting individual cases that confirm what he already believes and then drawing from them a set of predetermined conclusions. McGowan dismisses Goodman's approach as "methodologically unsound."

It is not mere academic snobbery that explains these scholars' harsh assessment of Goodman. Rather, Goodman invites such criticism by continually portraying himself as a disinterested academic researcher. For example, his latest venture is the "United States Gambling Research Institute," which he founded this year in Northampton, Massachusetts. A promotional brochure states that the USGRI will offer "critically needed objective information about legalized gambling" and "provide balance to the ongoing debate over new forms of legalized gambling." Moreover, the institute promises to "conduct original research and evaluate the work of other researchers." The opening sentence of The Luck Business announces that in "1992...I became the director of the United States Gambling Study." But the official-sounding name of this entity is misleading. In reality, Goodman himself fashioned both the name and the "study"--and appointed himself director--with modest grants from the Aspen Institute and the Ford Foundation.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • nfl jerseys||

    nthy

  • ||

    Keep up the fight against gambling. I've been at for twenty years now. Ed biersmith PhD rockhurst ('63) loyola NO (02)

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement