Reason Writers Around the Web: Radley Balko Debates the Legalization of Gambling at the Economist Online


This week, Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko is participating in an online debate over the legalization of gambling, sponsored by the Economist. Balko's opponent is Les Bernal, executive director of Stop Predatory Gambling.

Balko's opening argument is here. Bernal's is here.

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  1. I still don’t get why any debate is needed.

  2. Les Bernal seems surprised that casino’s operate under the Pareto Principle.

    I stopped reading at that point.

    When a fundamental “law” is considered predatory, then the debater is an idiot.

  3. Somebody, somewhere, might bet more than he can “afford” to lose, right?

  4. Con guy is in range of a point when he’s bitching about government lotteries. State-run gambling just isn’t an “individual liberty” kind of thing (except at point-of-sale), or states wouldn’t do it. Anything a government does, and especially what it does enthusiastically, is predatory.

    More than one out of five citizens now believe the best way to secure their financial future is to play the lottery.

    If “best” means “most probable”?like if this is a bet?it’s true for more than one out of five. More like three. Maybe four.

    1. If “best” means “most probable”?like if this is a bet?it’s true for more than one out of five. More like three. Maybe four.

      If the jackpot is high enough, one can play and actually expect to win more than the cost of the ticket.

      1. Maybe. Calculating the expected vslue is not straightforward in lotteries where you can have multiple winners who split the jackpot.

        1. vslue = value

  5. Financially, many State lotteries are in trouble, one reason is that they are legal and that just doesn’t have the same thrill for some people.

    1. I hadn’t heard that state lotteries were having financial difficulties (not my area of interest), but if so wouldn’t a logical explanation for a loss of revenue be the 50% vig? Compared to the 2-8% at legal casinos, horse tracks, etc., the huge 50% cut of government monopoly gambling is a pretty bad deal.

  6. Inconsistencies about gambling are the worst in the area of sports.

    Opponents claim that sports gambling is particularly illegal because doing otherwise would results in bribery accusations following every bad call.

    Yet gambling is legal on horseracing, greyhound racing, and jai-alai, and accusations of race fixing do not follow bad calls or upsets in any of those sports.

    If the only restriction to sports gambling is the possibility of corruption, then whatever immunizes those sports from the possiblity of bribery, should also be used to immunize other professional sports from that same possibility.

    1. race fixing do not follow bad calls or upsets in any of those sports.

      Horse racing has had plenty of fixing inquiries over the years. Many of them really happened.

      1. I know of no actual attempts to fix races. Do you have any citations for this?

        1. Just off the top of my head, there was a Churchill Downs incident in the late 80s/early 90s where a sponge was found inside the nose of a favorite post race.

          1. IIRC, it wasnt an isolated incident.

        2. link

          There are many of these type incidents.

        3. more

          The first sentence says it all:

          The world of horse racing has always been clouded by allegations of race fixing, corruption and ‘insider’ trading.

          Whether they occur or not (and they do occur), the accusations are always flying around, which is what you said doesnt happen.

          1. The New York times article deals with drugging horses to improve their performance. The words race fixing are out of place in that article.

            Juicing an athlete is not fixing a contest. Juiced baseball players did not play in fixed games in the late 1990’s, nor were they accused of that even after steroid-use was revealed.

            1. I figured you would say that HENCE THE OTHER FUCKING LINKS.

              And, yes, juicing is fixing racing. Its attempts to change the outcome artificially. Its just less accurate.

  7. Amazingly PA has legalized slot machines and table games, in addition to is previous legalization over 30 years ago of the lottery, horse racing, and racinos. Now if we could just push through medical marijuana and prostitution.

  8. My comment posted at the debate site:

    Re: Bernal’s opening remark: “Casinos and lotteries are the most predatory businesses in the world and their financial windfall is coming at your expense.”

    This is full of fail on several points. First of all, the most predatory “businesses” in the world are the various levels of government. They can take over half of your income without your consent, in exchange for “services” that oftentimes harm you (such as the War on Drugs), and throw you in jail if you resist their depredations.

    What can a casino do to me without my consent? Not a damn thing. They can’t force me to spend a dime in their establishments unless I choose to enter it. If I enter, I can leave at any time. If I want to gamble, but think their business practices are out of line, they have competitors eager to treat me better.

    Basically, Bernal’s argument boils down to the notion that we are helpless to resist their attempts to get us to engage in a completely voluntary transaction with them. I call bullshit on that.

    As for what they are doing “coming at your expense” — really? All those people in, say, Vegas, somehow went to all the trouble to book a flight and hotel room there in order to do something they know is harmful to them? And keep going back despite getting ripped off and used every time?

    The fact is that most people gamble because they enjoy it, and the pleasure they derive from that exceeds the amount of money they on average lose. It is a voluntary transaction that benefits both parties.

    Yes, some compulsive gamblers choose to harm themselves, but that is no argument for banning gambling, unless you also believe that we should ban sugar and transfats and doughnuts and alcohol and (insert every nanny state ban imaginable here) for everybody because a minority of people have a problem with self control.

    I reject that worldview. I choose freedom for myself and everyone else.

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