Hugh’s News: Are we gambling on our future?

September 10, 2011


HUGH TURLEY —

BY HUGH TURLEY — Penn National Gaming, a Pennsylvania-based company, is gearing up to lobby the Maryland General Assembly for slot machines, table games, or both in Prince George’s County.  Advocates of the casino-style gambling at Rosecroft, near National Harbor, argue that it will provide additional money for state and local budgets, provide jobs, and support hospitals.

Some believe if the county does not offer additional gambling, citizens will go to another county or state to gamble.  This argument was made in Idaho after World War II when slot machines were in the bordering states of Nevada, Washington, and Montana.  Idaho legalized slots because they imagined money was flowing into the neighboring states.

By 1953, Idaho had reversed itself and banned the slot machines.  The state budget had benefited from the additional income but there were other costs.  Businesses suffered when citizens who gambled away their money had none left to patronize local restaurants and stores, or pay their dental and doctor bills.

One need not look as far away as Idaho to discover the disadvantages of gambling to a community.   During the 1960s, slot machines were outlawed in neighboring Charles County.  The Baltimore City Paper’s  “Little Vegas” (12/1/2004) asked the question, “What can Maryland’s troubled history with slot machines tell us about the odds for the future?”

Maryland State Senator Paul G. Pinsky (District 22) told the HL&T that he opposes “gambling, including slots and table games in both our state and county.”  Pinsky said he believes, “expanding gambling operations is bad public policy that harms vulnerable citizens by promoting addictive behavior.”

The proper role of government is to serve and protect the people.  When government encourages casino-style gambling it does neither.

Gambling is opposed to human reason.  Adam Smith noted in The Wealth of Nations that the more lottery tickets you purchase, the greater your chance of losing.  To see why this is so, just think of the person who purchases all the tickets.  He is certain to lose because he will have paid in more than the total value of the prize.

Gambling is designed to give participants little or nothing in return for their money.  Thomas Aquinas, writing in the 13th century, invoked the Golden Rule when he addressed gambling: “No man wishes to buy a thing for more than it’s worth.  Therefore no man should sell a thing to another man for more than it’s worth.”

Even winning in gambling is unreasonable because a person gains something of greater value than they paid.   Winnings from gambling are at the misery and expense of others who lose their money.  Taking or trying to take things from others without just compensation is demeaning.

Some consider nothing wrong when gambling is legal and participants mutually agree to take part. Aquinas might respond that human laws do not always reflect what is right, but that does not excuse us from being virtuous.  People ought to support hospitals and schools out of love of their fellowman and not because they can win something.

There are healthier businesses that could be attracted to the county that would not increase selfishness, ruin character, and be harmful to society.  In Pinsky’s words, “There are better sources of revenue for the state and more dependable sources of income for citizens.”  Why not try harder to attract businesses that manufacture such beneficial things as computer software, medical devices, precision tools, or pharmaceuticals?