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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Gambling? Not I

I'm returning from a business trip that included a meeting in Shreveport, La. Like many inland river cities in the Deep South, Shreveport isn't particularly prosperous; and like other cities envious of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, Shreveport is big into gambling. By that I mean casinos.

Gambling is not a favorite activity of mine. I did play poker in college, and I'm not so prudish that I haven't walked into casinos before. Gail and I blew a small amount of money years ago when we visited the Casino de Charlevoix in Qu├ębec, and I've dropped some pocket change into slot machines at the Las Vegas airport.

I opposed the North Carolina lottery, however, and I don't play it. Politically I vacillate between a laissez-faire libertarian view and a moral position that government should not profit by exploiting weaknesses of vulnerable people. By observation, most purchases of lottery tickets aren't in the upper income neighborhoods where people have plenty of money. Poor people buy a disproportionately high percentage of tickets. Similarly, as I walked through a Shreveport casino yesterday, I didn't see anyone in a tuxedo. I'd guess that hardly any patron in that casino had a six-figure annual income. Why are these folks blowing their money? One would think they need it. It seems like a peculiar form of entertainment to me. Mathematically we know (and casino managers and owners definitely know) that patrons will lose all their money if they can be induced to play long enough.

Casinos in Shreveport and elsewhere do provide employment; politicians and the local business community who want the casinos enjoy talking up these jobs. Problem is, the jobs are low-paying. Can the USA not do better in terms of job creation?

I suppose gambling is here to stay, but it won't get my money. Meanwhile I look forward to the next time that, being jet-lagged, I wake up in London in the middle of the night and find that there's not much on TV except real-time roulette.