Comment on a column by James Surowecki in the New Yorker Feb 11 and 18 2013. I wrote to the magazine on Feb 9. They have not run it.
James Surowiecki (Feb 11 and 18) argues that governments should get a piece of the action from betting on sports, now a “crime” with no “real victims.” In truth there are millions of victims. Nine million adults in the U.S. are pathological or problem gamblers. If 10% are primarily involved in sports betting, that makes 900,000 such. Around each are (say) eight family members or close associates victimized by the gambler’s behaviors. Some have had their savings diverted; some have had their deepest needs neglected or their bodies abused. Some have been murdered, or had their lives torn up by the suicide of a gambling parent or spouse. Not even counting the gamblers, then, there are millions of victims. It is woeful that sophisticated commentators ignore them.
When government “regulates” gambling to take the cut that used to go to bookies and bagmen, it is the boss of a once-illegal exchange that still gets half its profits from hurting innocent (if sometimes co-dependent) people while it exploits loose-cannon gamblers. Worse: always needing revenue, government must grow that now-“legal” exchange. It must foster new pathological and problem gamblers to boost revenue or at least maintain it by replacing those now out of the life.
Proponents of Government-in-Gambling note that tobacco and alcohol are regulated, Pigovian taxes collected. “How is ‘regulated’ gambling different?” they ask. This way: Most governments do not encourage smoking on the grounds it will make the government richer. They do not urge more alcohol consumption to spare the virtuous a tax increase. They do not advise parking by hydrants or driving 90 mph to raise more funds.
They do push big-time predatory gambling, hard. That’s the difference, and it is a social injustice.