Andrew Sullivan, despite running a great blog with plenty of thoughtful commentary, often holds positions I disagree with vehemently. What I love, though, is that he publishes dissenting positions sent in by his readers that are often articulate and quite prescient. Here’s one disagreeing with Sullivan’s position on state lotteries:
You wrote, “No one is forced to play the lottery.” True. Nor is anyone ever forced to take that first hit of heroin. Direct narcotics sales by the government could go a long way toward resolving our state and federal budgetary issues – hell, you yourself support decriminalization of at least some drugs – so why not get the government involved in those businesses too?
As a former professional card counter (I’ve been turfed from over 100 casinos in 16 states and wrote a recent book on the subject), I know more than I wish I knew about the psyche of gamblers and the spirit in which gambling revenues are generated. The business is dirty almost beyond conception.
Yes, blackjack professionals get a tad bitter because we’re treated like criminals for the simple act of playing, with an objectionably high skill level, the sole beatable game. But when you find yourself surrounded by armed guards for the non-crime of gambling in a gambling hall, you begin to see that casino management has not even the least of shred of interest in a fair and balanced gaming environment. Their job is to beat fish out of the money, period.
And then you start looking around to the fish. You see the midnight zombies with their waning stores of cash and the anguish in their postures and faces. One way to get in trouble as a card counter is to inadvertently exchange one of these “ah-ha” smirks with the bosses when a compulsive sits down at the table. The bosses all know something about their little industry. They laugh about it – perhaps because to consider it seriously and with compassion would make them either crazy or out of a job. But spend the time in casinos that I’ve spent, observe the amazing frequency of clearly unhinged people steaming on, desperately toward ruin, with no one to help them – in fact with all their supposed buddies on the casino staff conspiring to assure their continued destructive behavior – and you won’t be able to help yourself. You’ll loathe this fucking industry.
Not to say that it ought to be outlawed. But when the Oregon state lottery is shown to derive over half its profits from a troubled minority of citizens spending $500 or more each month, when the government-run casinos in Ontario are shown to depend on gambling-related mental illness for fully a third of their revenues, I find it difficult to ignore that predation is essential to the industry.
And that’s why as a citizen I refuse to have any part of it. I don’t want my government turning fellow Americans into fish. Keep the industry private. Let the scum deal in scum.
This reminds me of a guy that I used to work with about 20 years ago when we were both ‘vacuum operators’ depositing thin films on glass used for laser manufacture. He was extremely high-strung, often manic and irritable. These were bad traits for our task because it required steady hands and intense focus for up to an entire 8 hour shift. The operator had to peer into the chamber manipulating a heat beam to essentially cook the material that was being evaporated in a steady and even pattern. One slip and the run was destroyed and you had to start over.
My co-worker was usually manic over his latest gambling exploits, or else extremely depressed and wanted to tear your head off. Once he told me, when I took over his shift, that he was heading off to Reno to hit it big. There was a gleam of confidence in his eye. I never saw him again. He failed to show up for work the next day and we later found out he’d driven his motorcycle off the road into a ravine on the way home from a presumably less than successful evening.
I’ve told my own, likely somewhat apocryphal story of my gambling history many times; how I invested a nickle in a gas station slot machine, got two nickles back, and immediately retired a winner, never to gamble again. This happened long before I met my unfortunate friend. I’ve also never bought a lottery ticket. I have the seed of many vices in my genes but fortunately not that one. Obviously, a huge percentage of the population does bear this affliction, and I pity them for it. I, like the dissenter above, loathe the pitiless pushers who expand this human misery for profit and agree government should have nothing to do with it.