Reason Writers Around the Web: Radley Balko Concludes His Gambling Debate for the Economist

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Today at the Economist website, Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko and Les Bernal of Stop Predatory Gambling conclude their debate over the legalization of gambling. Excerpt from Balko's piece:

In his rebuttal, Les Bernal stakes a much more absurd, downright Orwellian position: Banning commercial gambling would expand our freedom…

Mr Bernal knows it would be unpopular to argue against personal freedom. So he's trying to change its definition. In Mr Bernal's world, freedom means having the government take bad decisions away from you. To borrow from (and slightly bastardise) a song by the great Kris Kristofferson, for Mr Bernal, freedom's just another word for nothing left to choose.

And from Bernal's:

Virtually no one would disagree that some forms of predatory gambling would occur underground. Yet only the uninformed and the ignorant can argue that organised crime would be running almost 900 casinos across America, overseeing 800,000 electronic gambling machines and pushing instant lottery scratch tickets up to $50 in tens of thousands of locations in cities and towns across the country, all backed by billions of dollars of advertising on TV, radio and billboards alongside state-of-the-art marketing technology.

NEXT: Reason.tv Replay: A Drug Raid Goes Viral: Radley Balko on the Missouri SWAT Raid Video

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  1. Having read the entire thing, Radley and Les don’t even appear to be writing about the same issue. I couldn’t figure out why until I reread a section of Bernal’s opening statement. It is possible (though not necessarily probable) that Bernal does want to see low-house edge games legalized, leading to his tunnel vision on “predatory” (totally underused word, dude) gambling. If so, he did a terrible job of stating this explicitly, allowing only a few passing statements that “that’s not what were discussing.” Had he conceded the broader point to Radley and then focused on his smaller subsection of gambling (the latter portion of which he appeared to do anyway), then at least the debate might have resembled, you know, a debate.

    Alternatively, he could just be one of the “well if some gambling is bad, then it’s all bad” lunkheads, but I didn’t really get that feeling from reading his statements. I got the feeling that he was making broad assumptions somewhere without stating them. All in all, a somewhat disjointed debate, but one that Radley cleaned up on, not the least of which because his logic was explicitly stated. (Oh, and he was right, too, which helps.)

  2. Yet only the uninformed and the ignorant can argue that organised crime would be running almost 900 casinos across America,

    Uhm, count me uninformed then.

    Paraphrasing “man in bank” from Raising Arizona:

    ‘Cause, if’n gamblin’s legal, then it ain’t a crime. And if’n it aint a crime, then it ain’t organized crime.

  3. From Bernal: ” Most telling of all, the vineyard owner drinks his own wine?predatory gambling is the only product or service where most of the people who own it don’t use it themselves.”

    That’s quite a claim. How about coffin manufacturers? Enema executives? People who make walking sticks for the blind? And you can bet the hoof-grinder at the Hormel plant isn’t sampling too much of his own product.

  4. There’s no such thing as predatory gambling. All wagers are placed voluntarily by people who want to place bets.

    Accepting money from a fool who wants to give it to you does not make you a predator.

    1. There’s no clear, objective line between taking money from a person whose will is compromised by compulsive behavior, and, say, tricking a severely retarded person out of their money.

      Yes, it’s consensual, but the consent was compromised. Now, that said, if we go to far with that, we’re simply imposing our preferences on people that are making rational, informed choices that we disapprove of. I’m fine with drawing the line in a way that punishes child seducers and con artists and leaves casino operators in the clear, but there’s going to be a line either way.

  5. I think it’s funny how he cites the late Paul Samuelson’s views on the economic value of gambling. He is apparently blissfully unaware of contemporary economists’ enthusiasm for prediction markets, which is (!) unequivocally a form of gambling.

  6. Amazingly we’ve been able to get slot machines and table games added to our lotteries, horse racing, and racinos. Unfortunately a lot of people and politicians are complaining about this. Its insane. People are always going to gamble, and instead of sending those people to Atlantic City or Vegas, letting them spend their gambling dollars in their own state is a benefit for consumers and government alike. Now if only we could get medical marijuana and prostitution passed!

  7. When will these people talk about predatory government?

  8. Bernal quotes Parx CEO Dave Jonas as follows:

    “We have customers,” Jonas boasted, “who give us $25, $30 five times a week.”

    I’m not sure I’m horrified by that. If you told me that someone spent $6,500-$7,800 per year on cycling, medieval reenactment, or World of Warcraft, or tobacco smoking for that matter, I would think they were making a very different choice than me, but I couldn’t tell you whether it was right or wrong until I knew more about them.

  9. This Bernal guy sounds like an early 20th century prohibitionist crusader.

    I think they had an easier time of it when they could say they were crusading against alcohol, etc. when they could say they were doing it for Jesus.

    Now they have to justify imposing their values on everyone else in some other way–so they won’t let you gamble and they’re doing it for “freedom”?

    Go Balko.

  10. During the short time I lived in Missouri they were in the throes of a historic referendum on whether to let organized gambling into the state. Bernal reminds me of the OMG types who were forecasting all kinds of destructive and deviant behavior should the measure pass. Predictions included an organized crime invasion, addicted gamblers flooding welfare roles, and God smiting sinners.

    Eventually it was time to vote, and the measure passed. After that it was legal for the good people of Missouri to participate in the Publisher’s Clearinghouse contest.

  11. Making choices for on an uncertain future is and should be a fundamental right.

  12. It is a sure sign that you are getting old and crotchety when you read or hear an asshole crusader like Bernal and your only desire is that he come within shotgun range of your front porch.

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