Slots Moral Arguments Sacrifice the Many for the Benefit of the One

Two local clergymen, Rev. Byron Brought and Rev. Jonathan Weaverhad a column in Sunday’s Washington Post arguing a moral reason for denying slots.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of these men who argue that state sanctioned gambling is a form of exploitation of a human weakness for profit. It is hard to argue that viewed fromt that standpoint, it seems unfair. Brought and Weaver write:

Those who say slots will create revenue for the state don’t acknowledge the catastrophic ramifications of such a decision. For the state to win, the player must lose. As people of faith, we are called on to speak out to protect Maryland from the insidious vice of gambling.

As with many bad habits, playing slots can begin the downward spiral toward addiction. Those who begin to gamble with slots can find themselves craving a bigger rush and a more exciting payoff. And legalizing slots would create a new state-sanctioned industry that would take advantage of those who already struggle with addiction. What might seem like an innocent game would have negative repercussions for our entire community.

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The Reverends go on to cite crime and corruption, the old standbys of slots opponents.

But what the Reverends fail to note is that gambling has a long history in our state and one argument for allowing slots is to provide a means of financial support to another gambling based industry–horse racing. Weaver and Brought don’t argue for the elimination of horse racing and the betting that coexists with that industry. (Although to be fair, I would assume that they would make such and argument). Yet, no one talks about the “crime and corruption” that derives from horse race betting. We only worry about crime and corruption as a result of slots. Odd.

The problem with slots, as it is envisioned by legislative proponents is that slots themselves represent a type of governmental addiction far more devastating than gambling addition. Our state will become dependent, in a manner that only a junkie can understand, to the revenues generated by slots. Instead of cutting spending or reigning in government, the response of the legislature in future lean times will be to expand slots, expand gambling, etc. Instead of making the hard choices inherent in government, the legislature will take the easy way out.

I think slots are a legitimate business and I see no reason to deny their existence on moral grounds. Slots are no more immoral than horse race betting or the weekly poker games with friends. Gambling is not a negative vice, it is a neutral vice. Just like alcohol having some beneficial effects when taken in moderation, gambling in moderation has no negative effects. Are some people prone to addiction? Yes, but that is hardly a reason to deny a pleasureable activity to the rest of society just because some small percentage need to control themselves better.

However, I oppose slots as a govnermental funding mechanism. Slots, as a business, should be taxed no differently than any other business (and the less the better on that score).

Maryland’s slots proposal is designed to create a funding addiction that this state can no more afford than a recovering alcoholic or recovering gambling addict. Perhaps that would be the better argument.

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