Monitor Board of Contributors: Why would we want to bet on being losers?
A woman smokes while playing slot machines at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., Thursday Sept. 13, 2007. In order to comply with restrictions on smoking passed by Atlantic City officials earlier this year, seven of the city's 11 casinos plan to go totally smoke-free on the gambling floor. The Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort will create separate smoking enclosures where gambling will be offered. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Life’s a gamble, isn’t it? We roll the dice and see what happens. Some of us play it safe, some of us don’t. Some days we win, and some days we don’t.
With that in mind I am trying to understand the idea of institutionalized gambling here in New Hampshire. Is it right or is it wrong, and by whose criteria? Is it something I should support or oppose, and what should be my criteria?
No question, my first response is caution. Play it safe. We have done fine without it, and let’s keep it that way. Sometimes I am surprised by the conservative persona that lurks behind my liberal exterior. But on this issue the conservative/liberal thing doesn’t work.
All bets are off, you might say. There seem to be other forces at work.
Back when I was in high school, some of us guys would get together for a night of poker. There were cigarettes and sometimes beer or a bottle of peppermint schnapps (if we could find it). We played our cards, made our bets, and sometimes the pot might even reach $5 or $6. But as a habit, for me it never stuck. Poker fell away like the cigarettes and the beer, while I sought other paths of experience.
Then there was Batavia Downs. It was while still in high school, but we were driving then so our territorial range had increased. And on Saturday nights the horse race track was our new destination.
Thank God the bet windows never checked for IDs, and Mom and Dad never asked where I had been.
We studied the racing form, made our picks, laid down our money, and sometimes even put down a $10 bet to win. Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost.
This was big stuff, though. It was part of asserting my independence and being an adult. And there was probably a little bit of thinking it was cool. But it never became obsession. It was just there to try out for a while, like a new girlfriend. When it was over, it was over.
So I can’t really claim any experience to the concept of gambling other than a few youthful explorations many years ago. I did put a couple quarters in a slot machine while laid over at the Las Vegas Airport a few years ago. And sometimes I might buy a Powerball ticket. But Foxwoods, or any of those other casinos, just are not part of my experience.
So I am not a very good bet for the success of a casino here in the state.
But I guess others are, and I am trying to figure out the attraction.
To me it is kind of like life insurance. That’s a bet of sorts, isn’t it? I’m making a bet with the insurance company that I will die. And the insurance company is betting I won’t. And though I put down my wager with every quarterly payment, I’m really hoping I lose. You could say the same about auto insurance, or fire insurance or just about any insurance.
I would just as soon not have the payout.
Now what about this idea of a gambling casino, isn’t that kind of the same thing? It can only be successful if there are more losers than winners. And I guess that is where my enthusiasm starts to drain. Because I don’t understand why any state would want to bet on its citizens being losers.
I don’t understand a revenue source that is based upon exploitation of people’s weakness.
It seems to me more like state-sanctioned deception. You build a place based on luring people with the hope that they will win, but the success of that place is based on the fact that they won’t. Where is the social value in that? Where is the leadership? It would seem that easy money trumps the need for social responsibility in state government.
So I don’t get the gambling thing.
But then again, I do get it. And I suppose that somewhere down in my thoughts it makes me sad to think that it should be our state’s salvation. I would like to think that the place I call home aspires to something higher. Like maybe getting into the insurance business.
But, of course, this is insurance. It’s insurance that we can avoid for a few more years having a responsible discussion about state revenue and find a truly equitable way of raising it.
I just don’t know. Do you think that might ever happen? I can tell you this. It is not something I would bet on.
(John Gfroerer of Concord is the owner of a video production company based at the Capitol Center for the Arts.)