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Gambling? Deal with it!

| Sunday, July 6, 2003

Don't they have calendars and maps in Harrisburg?

Calendars with the correct year - or correct century -- marked on them•

Maps that show our lovely commonwealth is still part of America, where the government -- on constitutional paper, anyway -- is supposed to be limited in power and ordered to let peaceful people live, work and play in a state of liberty?

I really worry about the people who live, vote and hold office in my native Pennsylvania. Are they so old, up-tight or culturally out of it they don't notice we have more dumb, backward and puritanical laws on our books than Afghanistan under the Taliban?

We're still burdened with New Deal relics like the Public Utility Commission, which perpetuates the myth that government regulation is necessary to ensure the safety, reliability and affordability of our electric, natural gas, water, telephone and transportation services. And of course there's everyone's favorite Pennsylvania joke -- the Liquor Control Board.

Now our moral nannies in Harrisburg, desperate to cover their fiscal imprudence, plan to loosen up our Old Testament gambling rules to allow slot machines.

To make sure the act of gambling will remain as inconvenient and boring to as many citizens as possible, however, slots will be sequestered at eight horse racing tracks, most of which are out in the sticks. And no credit or debit cards can be used to buy tokens for slots. And don't look for ATMs nearby.

Our wise leaders would never dream of actually making it easy to partake of something as sinful as gambling. Therefore, for our own good, we children will only be permitted to play with slots. We will not be tempted by real casinos with Roulette wheels and Black Jack tables like the ones in Niagara Falls, Atlantic City, Nevada and 27 other states.

Can somebody call Harrisburg and tell them it's 2003. Tell them the religious and culture war against gambling -- like the equally foolish drug war -- has been lost. Like it or lump it, legal and illegal gambling is fused into our national culture -- from local bookies and office World Series pools to off-track betting parlors, church bingo, the Internet and annoying state lotteries.

Nevada is built on it. So is half the NFL's popularity. Every corner bar in Pittsburgh is richly subsidized with profits from video poker machines that pay winners in cash. Everyone from City Hall to the cop on the beat knows what's going on and looks the other way. It's such a sweet racket, no one wants to make them legal and tax them.

Opponents of legalized or deregulated gambling say new casinos spawn crime waves, but no definitive studies can prove it, says Nelson Rose, a law professor and gaming expert at Whittier Law School in California. He could not think of one gambling location, including Atlantic City, where crime became a serious problem.

Opponents also throw around the patently absurd statistic that 6 percent of America's gamblers are addicted, which means about 5.5 million Americans are "problem" or "pathological" gamblers. But Rose told me "every single study that's legitimate puts the addiction rate at about 1 percent."

Even if it were 6 percent, it doesn't justify outlawing gambling any more than much higher addiction rates for alcohol or nicotine justify outlawing their use. Gambling -- like other timeless human activities uptight people use government power to forbid -- is already here to stay. So deal with it.

Legalize all forms of it. Regulate it gently. Tax it sensibly. But most of all, get the state government out of gambling entirely. Like beer, booze and everything else, it's too important to be entrusted to the politicians.

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