Simple greed? Entertaining fantasy of something for nothing? Touching naïveté concerning probability theory?

Like the distinction between the social-lubricant pint of beer versus the family-destroying demon rum, there's a big difference between penny-a-point card games and pathological gambling. George Vecsey, New York Times sports columnist, wrote recently about the context surrounding the ongoing Pete Rose scandal and large-scale wagering in the US today. Something that approaches 10% of the adult population is hooked. And state governments are wholeheartedly sponsoring --- and making a profit on --- the problem. Isn't this volume of gambling more than a little scary in its long-term implications for our civilization?

The statistics that Vecsey cites (for US spending in 2002) are fascinating. In billions of dollars:

The Statistical Abstract of the United States (2002, Table No. 1213, available online) confirms these numbers and adds more fuel to the fire. Total "recreational expenditures" are ~8% of all personal consumption. Gambling comes in ahead of books, maps, magazines, and newspapers --- combined. It also beats, by a narrower margin, all spending on "nondurable toys and sport supplies". Likewise for "wheel goods, sports, and photographic equipment (including boats and pleasure aircraft)". But (sigh of relief?) the gaming industry is still behind spending on "video and audio products, computer equipment, and musical instruments". (Whew!)

Yes, the details of the numbers depend on how one slices the pie. But the bottom line is hard to deny --- there's an epidemic underway, and it's spreading even to ostensibly intellectual circles. Elite New Yorker writers have begun confessing book-length to their illness, both in casinos and via stock market speculation. (One hopes that their advances and royalties are being kept in trust for them.)

Not an encouraging sign for our society. (I'll give you 3:1 odds that hard times are on the way ... )

TopicRecreation - TopicEntertainment - TopicSociety - 2004-02-05

Mark, do you know what I'd love to see written? I'd love to see people write scenario's about governments that are able to make hard, moral decisions. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow morning and read that the Republicans have decided that by 2007 gambling and fossil-fuel powered vehicles will be outlawed. I'd love to see the scenario of what happened to that government in the following 6 months and also what happened inside of that government in the previous 6 months to arrive at that decision. -- DarrenNeimke

Gambling income, once a staple of organized crime, has increasingly become an opiate of the administration. State-run lotteries and lately casinos prove irresitable in the face of public opposition to further taxation, especially in tax-weary Europe. -- Bo Leuf

That's true Bo, so, what carrot can you possibly offer to people when, to take away such a massive source of tax relief can leave no financial alternatives other than to raise personal and corporate tax rates and reduce spending in key areas.

I think that, at this level of the human psyche there are two "drivers" that come to mind... 1) Fear, 2) Greed. :-) and Greed - as I've mentioned - obviously ain't gunna work! -- Darren Neimke

I have a number of concerns re state-sponsored gambling:

I don't want to sound like I'm against gambling (among consenting adults) --- but I do have problems with government-run gambling as a revenue source, and I definitely think that it is developing into a significant social problem (as is excessive television watching, excessive alcohol and drug use, and other obsessive/addictive behaviors) ...

On the tough issue of governments making "... hard, moral decisions ..." --- excellent question, Darren, which I need to think much more about! In general, I fear we get the government that we deserve ... and on the really difficult moral themes it probably takes generations to arrive at some societal consensus. (Should a government legislate vegetarianism? I think not, though I myself don't eat meat for philosophical reasons. Maybe in a few more decades, if the common level of thought about animal rights evolves in that direction? I don't know. During the past century or two many governments did make hard, moral decisions concerning racial inequality, and there are still arguments in many countries concerning sexual inequality.)

I probably need to read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty again before I say much more! --- ^z = MarkZimmermann

(see also OnTheSubjectionOf (21 Aug 1999), OurStonehenge (31 May 2001), DeliberateOpinion (14 Oct 2001), ...)

It really wasn't the topic of Gambling per se which grinds with me, it's the fact that we are set up to be so reactionary with regard to tough issues such as:

    Fossil Fuel

Governments are gridlocked into following the path of least resistance. Although, I take your point about "big issues" taking longer to resolve themselves; I dunno, maybe we do have a good balance and that it doesn't take a percentage swing of much on either side to give the impression of either inactivity or over-reactiveness.

Thanks for your thoughts! -- Darren Neimke

Great mix of topics in your sample list of tough issues, Darren! ... maybe I will try to write a poem based on them --- smoking guns and all that (^_^) ...

And (slightly more) seriously, it might be fun to work out a taxonomy of "social issues" --- e.g., environmental themes, public health themes, public safety themes, etc. --- and then see whether there are any patterns of consensus or conflict that emerge.

And to the list you suggest one might add abortion, assisted suicide, space exploration (just checking to see if you're reading this), tax relief for billionaires, animal rights (you knew I would put that one in!), racism, sexism, gay rights, state-sponsored preference for one religion over another, zoning restrictions on porn establishments, monachy, etc., etc. --- MarkZimmermann

Whatever items we have in the list one thing is for sure... the answer is "42" :-)

 -- [[DarrenNeimke]]

(correlates: AfterlifeGrosses, Comments on Standard Model, ChivalrousReasoning, ...)