Gamblers Never Win

Barney Frank wants to legalize online gambling. Europe's already reaping the gambling tax revenues. California's debating legalized gambling, and so is Massachusetts. Table games are back in the Poconos, and they're popular as ever. Gambling! A financial utopia?

Ha, of course not! Gambling is an ethically dubious tactic beloved by politicians too scared to come right out and raise taxes. Because gambling is, of course, a tax. A tax that falls primarily on those who cannot afford it—the poor, the desperate, the uneducated, those easily susceptible to ads touting dreamy easy fortunes that will never be obtained in the real, workaday world. A slot machine, for example, is nothing but a tax machine that can be set at any tax rate the casino wants; you put in $100, and you get $98 back, on average. The casino then breaks off a small portion of this profit and kicks it back to the state in the form of tax revenue. The state, in effect, subsidizes casinos by legalizing gambling; instead of simply placing, say, a 0.5% sales tax, which might be politically unpopular, politicians will allow the mathematically unsophisticated to be taxed at a far higher rate via gambling in order to receive the same amount of revenue back, after the private corporate middlemen have taken their hefty share.

As a means of leisure, gambling is fine. As a means of public policy, it is a sham.

State lotteries are a tax. Legalized sports betting is a tax. Casino games all have their individual odds, and since the odds are all in the house's favor, they too are a form of tax. Even when skillful gamblers win lots of money, they are winning it at the expense of the vast majority of unskillful gamblers, adding nothing to the net wealth. Shiny ad campaigns that appeal to the dreams of the most desperate should be outlawed, and the fact that our own governments pay for them, to convince us to throw away more money on lottery tickets, is a god damn criminal shame. We, the people, would be better off if instead of taking our money for lotteries, the state taxed us and then paid us all that money back with interest at a later date—a mandatory borrowing program, if you will. But of course taxes are bad, and gambling is good, for freedom, and YOU MIGHT WIN, so who is the state to tell you not to do it, ehhh? They'll just take their cut of your mathematical folly.