The billboard promised me “Better Schools” if I voted for Question A. Who doesn’t want better schools? I’m ready to vote YES on Question A as soon as I get to the voting booth.
But, wait a minute: if Question A is really for better schools, a little homework might be helpful. Ah, so it turns out that Question A will allow the State of Maryland to put slot machines in the Arundel Mills shopping center.
Hmmm. What’s that got to do with better schools? Will the kids be able to play the slots at lunchtime and learn more about probability to improve their math scores? If they really learn about probability, they’ll learn that gambling is a tax for people who didn’t study math. Maybe the teachers will be able to supplement their income with some one-armed banditry after school hours. That might ease the pressure on the state budget. But we’ll have to lay out more money for police.
This billboard ad is another of the dishonest tactics used to push state-sponsored gambling. I go back a long way with this issue. When I lived in Connecticut 25 years ago, I used to get my coffee in a little town that had a state-run Off-Track Betting (OTB) Parlor. As I ran into the coffee shop for a cuppa, I’d be amazed at all the people in the parking lot who were busy trading little slips of paper. The OTB parlor wasn’t open before 9 am, but here was a vigorous market in what used to be called the “numbers racket.” Illegal gambling was proceeding right outside the still-locked doors of the state-run OTB. Does that seem illogical? Weren’t we told that legalizing gambling would drive the Mob out? Think of it this way: If the state installs a porto-potty, it’s sure to draw flies.
Connecticut, of course, later became home to Foxwoods, a tribal casino. Thought you’d seen the “last of the Mohicans?” Once the casino was announced, those claiming descent from the famous tribe came out of the woodwork. They promised jobs then, too, but one of the main jobs they hired for was that of seat-cushion changer. It seems that middle-aged ladies got so powerfully addicted to those slots, they would wet themselves. And so, you can work changing their seat cushions for the minimum wage. Nice work if you can get it.
Coming to work in Washington, I used to run down to a Korean-owned deli to get a coke in the late afternoons. But on Fridays, it was a chore to get into the place. That’s when folks lined up to buy their Mega-Millions Lotto tickets. One especially tall fellow standing in front of me had a fistful of slips with numbers and names on them.
Readers of The Autobiography of Malcolm X would recognize this tall fellow as a numbers runner. Malcolm X boasted of a friend so smart he could memorize hundreds of names and their matching numbers. The police vice squad could never get any evidence on this guy.
But here was the tall Mr. Numbers Runner himself, fistful of dollars and all. We were assured that legalizing the Lottery would put the numbers runners out of business. My tall line-stander—during what must still have been the federal work day—was wearing a baseball cap: U.S. Department of Justice Motor Pool was the cap device.
So not only did we not run the runner out of business, he was now working for the government. And if Main Justice needed to get a car quick to run out and arrest someone, they’d have to wait for Mr. Numbers Runner to get back from his other assignment.
I remember catching flak on gambling one time in Grand Rapids, Michigan, of all places.
I was then working for my church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I was briefing an audience of our pastors on the work of the LCMS Washington office. In an aside comment, I knocked state-sponsored gambling.
Instantly, a pastor in the front row shot up his hand. “You’re a crypto-Calvinist!” he said accusingly. Not being a theologian, I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I gathered from the pastor’s vehemence that it wasn’t good. (At least, not good for a Lutheran layman.)
He proceeded to tell me that Scripture said nothing about gambling, that this was exactly what his fellow pastors were opposed to in a Washington office. I was about to go off-script just as badly on the right as so many Washington religious types go off on the left.
I was stung and felt really ignorant. I mumbled something about the love of money being the root of many evils, about “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” but I could tell that pastor was unconvinced.
Reflecting on that experience, I remembered what I might have said, with due respect:
“Pastor: Do you think when Scripture tells us about the Roman soldiers who cast lots for our Lord’s garments at the foot of the Cross, that that was a positive reference to gambling?” Maybe it’s just as well that I didn’t have the presence of mind to engage in a nasty putdown of a sincere Christian minister.
I appeal to him now, and to all Christians who might be in doubt about state-run gambling. Last week saw the arrest of five Alabama legislators on charges of corruption—in league with gambling interests. It’s not new. It happens every day. Gambling breeds such conduct.
Think of it this way: You may have a white rat as a pet. You may let your children play with your pet rat. They may even come to the dinner table, forgetting to wash their hands, and will probably not die.
But if you find a rat in its natural habitat, say, rattus rattus norvegicus, you can be sure that the rat does not carry bubonic plague. It does, however, invariably carry fleas—and the fleas are the vector for plague.
Gambling is like rattus rattus. Even when it’s legal–especially when it’s legal, it brings corruption, extortion, drugs, prostitution, and violence, just as surely as rats carry the fleas that bring plague.
I’ll vote NO on Question A. They say it’s for better schools. But after doing a little homework, I’ve gotten smarter about state-sponsored gambling.