While in public life, I opposed “sin taxes.” Sin taxes are the fees governments collects on alcohol sales, gambling enterprises and state lotteries. In my view, government shouldn’t be in the business of promoting addictions even if part of the pot is set aside for treatment programs. The gesture is like putting a band aid on a gaping wound. What’s more, governments have become addicted to sin taxes, much of which come from the poor. Writer Michael Gerson in a recent article points out that “60 percent of slot machine revenues derive from problem gamblers who consistently bet money they can’t afford to lose.” (When states profit from addiction,” by Michael Gerson, reprinted from Washington Post in The Week, 9/4/13, pg. 12)
Still, my rants never changed a single mind during my term in office and when the economy had its meltdown, the number of gambling houses grew. Mostly they were located in economically depressed areas where, despite the enormous mathematical odds against winning, the poor were enticed to dream. Just how great are the odds of winning a state lottery, for example? Adam Piore tells us in his article “Selling a Fantasy.” A player would “need to spend 12 hours a day, every day, filling out tickets for the next 55 years. (“Selling a fantasy,” by Adam Piore, excerpted from Nautilus for The Week, 9/6/13 pgs. 44-45)
“Somebody wins,” people shrug when they hear those numbers. Of course that’s magical thinking, but the dream is too compelling to be troubled by odds. Besides, we see the megabuck winners on the evening news jumping up and down with unbridled glee. Or, we tell ourselves, even if we lose money, in the case of lotteries, it’s for a good cause. The government will spend its winnings on better lunches for kids or in the defense of a cleaner water supply.
To be honest, games of chance are calibrated to give us hope. We are allowed to win just enough to encourage us to lose more.
“So what’s the harm?” someone is bound to ask. “$2 buys a dream and for a while you spend a little time imagining what you’d do with all that money. Don’t think of it as a tax. Think of it as a cheap form of entertainment.”
If $2 is all anyone spent, that might be a defense. If the government was in the entertainment business and not manipulating its poor, that might be a defense. But people are and do get addicted and the government is feeding and promoting that addiction. Is that what we want government to do? Does the end always justify the means?
(Courtesy of bing.com)