Gambling, it seems, is everywhere. From well-produced TV commercials for the state lottery to endless advertisements for “daily fantasy sports” leagues, the invitation to play games with money is never ceasing. I lived through it in my ancestral home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as the casino industry promised an economic turnaround if voters would just give them the right to exist. Almost every state is involved in some discussion of state-sponsored gambling.
Pro-gambling elected officials aren’t evil villains (necessarily). Yes, some of them are personally corrupt and poised to profit from the industry they are enabling. But many of these elected officials have good aims. They want to educate children, build infrastructure, and so on without raising a tax burden. I think gambling is an illusory way to do this, but, still, I acknowledge good intentions at the root of some of the cheerleaders for the industry.
But, unfortunately, I think both proponents and opponents of expanded gambling see this as merely a “values” issue. Of course, conservative Christians don’t support gambling because they see it as immoral, so they want it illegal. Often proponents of expanded gambling will reply that these Christians would, if they could, take the country back to Prohibition, because, after all, isn’t drunkenness a sin too?
But gambling isn’t merely a “values” issue. Neither is it primarily a “moral” issue, at least not in terms of what we typically classify as “moral values” issues. Gambling isn’t primarily a question of personal vice. If it were, we could simply ask our people to avoid the lottery tickets and horse-tracks, but leave it legal. Gambling is a justice issue that defines how it is that we love our neighbors and uphold the common good.
Gambling is a form of economic predation. Gambling grinds the faces of the poor into the ground. It benefits multinational corporations while oppressing the lower classes with illusory promises of wealth, and with (typically) low-wage, transitory jobs that simultaneously destroy every other economic engine of a local community.
In the end, the casinos will leave. And they’ll leave behind a burned-over district with no thriving agricultural, manufacturing, or tourism economies. In the meantime, they leave behind the wreckage of “check-to-cash” loan sharks, pawn shops, prostitution, and 1-2-3 divorce courts.
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