Sunday, March 9, 2014

An Old Hot Topic

            A few years ago I was a part of a team that wrote opinion columns for one of the local newspapers. One of the columns they published dealt with gambling. This was 13 years ago or so, and today the debate is still going on. One of the things I question in the article is whether or not there is enough disposable income to make every casino as profitable as the one in Lawrenceburg, at that time the only casino in the area.
          I think the profit expectation and actuality from the Golden Horseshoe prove I was right. So, for today, out of the Archives:
          They say the streets of Lawrenceburg are paved with gold, gold that came from the casino. The Commonwealth of Kentucky says they want some of that gold, by adding slot machines to the horse racing tracks. I guess they want to redo I-75, and suddenly dislike concrete white.
          The problem is, money doesn’t come from the casinos. It does flow through them, but it comes from the little folks with big dreams. Dreams of playing an old Johnny Paycheck song in the limo on their last day of work. Dreams of a new house, a new car, a life where an alarm clock is only an unpleasant memory.
          The problem is, gambling is a risk. In order to win big, you need to risk big. Big is relative. If I’m earning $200 an hour, and I drop $80 in a slot machine, I don’t think I’ll miss my next house payment. If I earn $10 an hour, eighty bucks is a day’s pay, before taxes, and the Hotel Chevrolet may be my new address.
          The problem is, gambling, like a lot of other things, isn’t inherently evil, it’s the overindulgence that is the evil. For some folks, risking a dollar on a chance at the church raffle is overindulgence. For others, a week in Las Vegas isn’t.
Legalized gambling is a difficult issue for me. I firmly believe that each and every one of us has responsibility for themselves. If someone wants to risk their entire paycheck on a spin of the roulette wheel, that’s their prerogative. But if that individual has a wife and children at home, that paycheck doesn’t belong to them, not completely. That money has responsibilities: feeding, clothing and housing those dependant on its existence.
          Society needs to protect itself from the irresponsible, just as it needs to protect itself from the anti-social. When families that can’t afford to gamble do, its society that picks up the slack. Controlling the availability of gambling is one of the things society does to protect itself.
          Put another way, when a trip to Vegas costs five or six hundred dollars, before the gambling, usually it was the folks who could spend that kind cash who went to gamble. It was affordable fun, for them.
          When a trip to “The Boat” costs five bucks, the access to the risk becomes less of a barrier, and more people, whose families’ may not be able to afford the loss, are subjected to the risk. To me, that is not socially acceptable.
          The streets of casino towns are paved with gold, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky wants to do the same to Rabbit Hash. But can it?
          I don’t think so. One of the reasons the casino boats in Indiana have done so well is the novelty of the venue. With a new set of boats, or even slots at the racetracks, how much will it take to reach saturation? How close are we to that point now?
          One of the reasons Kentucky wants the casinos at the race tracks is the lack of gamblers in attendance since the casinos came along. Is it because the players would rather pull a handle than pick a pony? Or is it because there aren’t enough gamblers to go around? Or, more to the point, is there just not enough gambling cash to make the spread?
                    Like it or not, the money supply is fairly finite. (I’d be happier if it was finite, but that’s another column.) Money going to one source has to come from another. The gambler’s money going to casinos is coming from racetracks, at the very least.
Where else is this cash coming from? Out of town? Out of State? Out of the Country? Or is it coming out of savings accounts, 401(k) s, college funds and credit cards? How much of the future will we risk, just to avoid paying the piper today?
People who wish to gamble will do so. They will risk any money, anybody’s money, any chance they get. If the gambling is legal, and easily accessible, the harder it is to end the addiction to the risk. I can’t do anything about folks driving to Indiana to lay their golden cobblestone, but I hope I can stop Kentucky from being another enabler.

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