Posts tagged with: gambling

Sid Meir's CivilizationMy wife despises Sid Meier. She’s never met him, nor would she even recognize his name. But she knows someone is responsible for creating the source of my addiction.

For over twenty years I’ve spent (or wasted, as my wife would say) countless hours playing Civilization, Meier’s award-winning strategy game. Every time I play the game I enter an almost trance-like state of complete immersion. According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, what I’m experiencing in that moment is known as “flow.” Csíkszentmihályi describes the mental state of flow as,

being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, there are ten factors that accompany the experience of flow:
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In a prime example of how irony is lost on politicians, lawmakers in North Carolina are proposing to prohibit people receiving welfare from playing in the lottery.

lotteryPerhaps the legislators aren’t aware of what state lotteries are, in effect if not intent, designed to do: redistribute the income of mostly poor Americans to a handful of other citizens—and to the state’s coffers.

Nevertheless, the lawmaker’s moral intuitions seem to be leading them to good intentions. As Rep. Paul Stam says, “We’re giving them welfare to help them live, and yet by selling them a ticket, we’re taking away their money that is there to provide them the barest of necessities.”

Okay, so maybe the irony isn’t lost on every politician.

You might be wondering how they could actually implement such a ban since it’s not obvious who is on welfare. According the Christian Post, at present the proposals seek to ban lottery ticket merchants if they “knowingly” sell a lottery ticket to someone on welfare. So the lawmakers are hoping that cashiers and sellers would be able to recognize locals who use food stamps, and therefore should refuse to sell lottery tickets to those people.

In other words the government wants to punish business owners for helping facilitate government sponsored gambling to people on the government dole.

I have a better idea—not a good idea, mind you, just a better idea that the punish-the-innocent approach that the government wants to take.
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Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, November 29, 2012
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When it comes to government programs for redistributing income, nothing is quite as malevolently effective as state lotteries. Every year state lotteries redistribute the income of mostly poor Americans (who spend between 4-9% of their income on lottery tickets) to a handful of other citizens—and to the state’s coffers.

A prime example is yesterday’s Powerball jackpot. Two people became instant multimillionaires from a voluntary transfer of wealth from their fellow citizens. The money came from the 563 million tickets that were sold, as the old adage says, to those who are bad at math.

The odds of winning were 1 in 175 million, which means that if every person in America had bought a ticket, only two would have won. The chances of a single ticket holder winning the Powerball were only slightly higher than meeting a random stranger on the street who hands you a million dollars.

Yet despite the harm it does to our financially vulnerable neighbors, Christians—who are called to seek justice for the poor—often participate and encourage this activity. Even more disconcerting is that the state not only allows, but participates, in this exploitation. Jordan Ballor explains how lotteries allow the state to prey on the poor:
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Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
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Just about every state has dealt with the issue over the last few years, it seems. But here in Ohio, the legal status of gambling is the issue that won’t go away. It’s on the ballot again in November, this time as a constitutional amendment to permit casinos in four cities.

The issue is something of a dilemma for Christians with limited-government inclinations. In general we don’t want prohibitions on legitimate business activity or entertainment, and most Christians don’t consider games of chance to be inherently immoral. Yet the societal repercussions of Big Gaming don’t appear very attractive from any angle. For one, as Acton’s Jordan Ballor pointed out in his treatment of the subject a few years back, revenue from lotteries and other gambling represents an all-too-easy source of funds for expansive state governments. Even more serious, as a recent analysis by Fr. John Flynn on Zenit underlines, gambling often amounts to a regressive tax on the poor, who tend to throw away a much higher proportion of their incomes in this fashion than do the better off.

In any case, it appears that widespread legalized gambling is here to stay. So what now? Fr. Flynn has one important answer: a return to the classic virtue of temperance, “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.” (It was given sort of a bad name in the US in the early twentieth century when the “temperance movement” became the “Prohibition movement” and enacted the ill-fated 18th amendment, but there’s nothing puritanical about temperance.)

I’ve noted in other contexts the importance of temperance: for example, the implications to health care of moderation in food, drink, physical activity, etc. Its relevance for gambling is self-evident. And of course there’s consumerism, the mortgage crisis, and financial speculation. So, pastors, writers, teachers: we’re long overdue for some sermons, commentaries, and lessons on the contemporary indispensability of that ancient virtue, temperance.

The fourth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The fourth leg of the journey took the bikers from Salt Lake City to Denver, a total distance of 478 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional at the beginning of this week focuses especially on the relationship of the church to culture. On day 22, the devotion notes that the “crucial pillars of civilization–education, family, government, and science–are in a state of decline and disrepair.” This may seem like a strange claim given all that humans have been able to accomplish over the last century or so. But if you look at the moral center of all these pursuits (for no human endeavor is “value” free), then the claim begins to make some sense.

Take, for example, the prayer from day 22, which focuses on gambling and the state of Utah’s position, which “forbids gambling and casinos.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once reflected on a symptom of the lifelessness of modern society when he wrote,

One gambles with the future. Lotteries and gambling, which consume an inconceivable amount of money and often the daily bread of the worker, seek the improbable chance of luck in the future. The loss of past and future leaves life vacillating between the most brutish enjoyment of the moment and adventurous risk taking.

Similarly, the day 22 devotion observes “that today’s culture, including the church, has sunk into a passionless routine.”

And in the same way, the day 23 devotion examines the ambivalent relationship between church and culture, although it ends on a rather optimistic note: “A hundred years ago biking was a Sabbath sin. Now our whole troupe bikes to church Sunday mornings. We, like the land, are being redeemed.” Even so, a consistent theme of critique towards destructive aspects of modern life is present throughout these devotions. As the day 13 devotion concludes, “Constant busyness is not godliness.”

The overall focus of the bike tour is poverty. To get involved in charities that effectively integrate faith and compassion, visit the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide. Be sure to check out the charities working in Colorado. Denver, the destination at the end of week 4, is home to two previous Samaritan Award honorees, “Providence Homes” (2004) and “Joshua Station” (2007).

The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) has published a paper titled, “Taxing the Poor: A Report on Tobacco, Alcohol, Gambling, and Other Taxes and Fees That Disproportionately Burden Lower-Income Families” (PDF).

The paper highlights state lotteries as particularly regressive taxes: “The dollar amount spent on the lottery by the lowest-income individuals (earning less than $10,000 annually) is twice as much as the highest earners (earning more than $100,000 annually).” I wrote a piece reacting to a poll with a similar finding awhile back.

The NCPA study also points out that “lotteries have worse odds than other forms of gambling; in fact, states retain some 33 cents of each dollar of lottery revenue — whereas privately owned casinos keep just 4.4 percent of the take.” And of course that casino take depends on the type of game played. Keno has the worst odds, with roughly 1/4 of the take going to the house, while games like roulette, slots, or blackjack have less than 5% house takes.

The paper also studies other popular sin taxes, like tobacco and alcohol, and one of the newest potential additions to the sin tax category: gasoline.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
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In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine the most recent buzz-worthy trend in the lottery industry: privatization.

While most critics of these moves have pointed to the foolhardiness of selling off a long-term income stream for a lump sum jackpot, I argue that privatization by itself does nothing to address the underlying problems afflicting the lottery business. I conclude, “A government-run monopoly would merely be replaced by a government-enforced monopoly.”

And as I’ve claimed previously, government reliance on lotteries as a morally praiseworthy generator of income is illusory. UPDATE (HT: Mere Comments): Here’s a bit from the abstract from a recent article examining lottery trends from 1976-1996: “One of the most important policy-oriented determinants of income inequality is the lottery and a significant portion of the increase in income inequality over our two-decade time period is attributable to the increasing prevalence and popularity of state lotteries” (Elizabeth A. Freund and Irwin L. Morris, “The Lottery and Income Inequality in the States,” Social Science Quarterly 86 [December 2005 Supplement]: 996-1012).

The newest incarnation of the Michigan Lottery’s attempt to sell the industry as contributing to the common good describes the lottery as a thread running through all sectors of society, connecting everyone in a single bond of community. Is it really true that under a state-run lottery system that “we all win,” or all we all simply trapped in the same web?

Earlier this year the New York Post reported that the expansion of legalized gambling is having a deleterious effect on the ability of non-profits to raise funds through gambling fundraising events (HT: Don’t Tell the Donor).

And now there are some plans in the works to expand lotteries to a whole new level. The UK Telegraph reports that within five years a multi-million dollar worldwide lottery could be put in place.

I actually am quite (pleasantly) surprised that some enterprising young congressperson hasn’t yet been successful in putting forward the idea of a national lottery. Surely the Commerce Clause could be invoked to regulate and nationalize the regional interstate lottery games that are currently underway. The talk about something like No Child Left Behind being an unfunded mandate could be cut off in one fell swoop.

Read the entirety of this week’s commentary here.

Let’s engage in a little thought experiment. How would you feel about the following scenario?

1) The government bans all activities associated with Industry X because it judges that this industry damages the common good. Industry X is under government prohibition.

2) After enough time has passed and a new generation of bureaucrats has arisen, one of them has the idea of resurrecting Industry X because it has the potential to create new streams of revenue for the government.

3) The government then legalizes Industry X but imposes strict controls, such that the government itself is deemed the only institution responsible enough to administer these activities. We now have a government-run monopoly on Industry X.

4) After initial success, the income from Industry X suffers for a variety of reasons, including competition from private enterprises in competing industries. The government realizes that it cannot run Industry X effectively, and so decides that it must privatize the industry.

5) The government doesn’t want to lose all control of the industry, however. It just wants it to be run more like an effective private-sector business. The government decides to take bids to sell of its interests in Industry X. The winner gets the exclusive right to run Industry X and is protected by a government-enforced monopoly.

At the end of this chain of events, the government has cashed in on years of running its own monopoly on Industry X, and has also gotten a huge windfall in the sale of its monopoly to a private firm.

That industry hasn’t become a real competitive market, however, because the private firm has a government-enforced monopoly on Industry X. It is still illegal for anyone other than that private firm to create a directly competitive business in that industry.

That sounds pretty bad to me. But the reality is that we are between stages 4 and 5 in the lottery industry in America today. States like Illinois and Indiana are considering selling off their interests in running a statewide lottery.

In Illinois, for instance, state officials have seen lottery revenues fall due to competition from other forms of gambling, including casinos and Internet poker.

This has led John Filan, the chief operating officer of the state of Illinois, to come to the following epiphany: “This is fundamentally a retail business, and governments are not equipped to manage retail businesses. Gaming is getting so competitive around the world that we’re worried our revenues could go down unless there is retail expertise.”

Governments are not equipped to manage retail business. What a revelation!

Rather incredibly, however, the criticism of these moves has not come from those worried about the vitality of the market and its advantages. Instead, economists are concerned that states are being short-sighted in selling off long-term income streams for a single short-term payday.

Melissa Kearney, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Maryland says, “It’s unclear exactly what is gained by selling a lottery, except for a huge pot of money that legislators can start spending right away.”

Charles Clotfelter, who teaches economics at Duke University, agrees. And Edward Ugel, author of the forthcoming Money for Nothing: One Man’s Journey Through the Dark Side of America’s Lottery Millions, writes that “Illinois is selling its future in order to fortify its present.”

Nowhere is any concern expressed over the impropriety of a government-enforced monopoly (even less one that is government-run).

If it is true that lotteries are “retail enterprises” that are inherently risky, and that government is ill-prepared to run them and that they should be turned over to those who are “in the risk-taking business,” then the government should legalize lotteries and open up the industry to real competition. A government enforced monopoly of a privately-run lottery system is no solution.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, August 4, 2006
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I just completed an interview that will air this Sunday on the Michigan Talk Network about state-run lotteries and Christian views on gambling for the “Michigan Gaming and Casino Show,” hosted by Ron Pritchard.

The occasion was this piece I wrote awhile back, “Perpetuating Poverty: Lotteries Prey on the Poor.” For more, see also “Betting on Gambling is a Risky Wager” and “Gambling Hypocrisy.”

You can check out the show live on the MLive talk radio feed here (click on “News radio”) at 3 pm on Sunday, August 6. The show will also re-air at 7 pm that same day, and we’ll try to post audio of the interview when it becomes available.

Update: Audio is available here.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, July 27, 2006
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“All forms of gambling are predatory and immoral in their very essence,” says Rev. Albert Mohler.

I don’t agree, at least insofar as his identification of what makes gambling essentially immoral is not necessarily unique to games of chance: the enticement for people to “risk their money for the vain hope of financial gain.” Stock markets come to mind.

Indeed, as I’ve pointed out before, there is no single coherent Christian position regarding gambling per se. For example, the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states, “Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others.” It further elucidates the complications by stating that “the passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.”

I find this to be a rather more nuanced and accurate reflection of the reality of gambling when compared to Dr. Mohler’s blanket condemnation. I’m not convinced, for instance, that weekend poker games are “predatory and immoral in their very essence.” (Well, when I’m involved perhaps they are a bit predatory, but maybe not immoral!)

Even so, we can agree about the basic hypocrisy that comes from the current political state of gambling in America, in which institutional structures are put in place to benefit the government and particular special interests, against the interests of the most vulnerable and potential competitors. The stakes are so high, in fact, that the temptations and possibilities for corruption are staggering (see, for example, the Abramoff scandal).

Responding to a piece on Slate by Jacob Weisberg, Mohler acknowledges that it “is a helpful reminder of the hypocrisy at the heart of the entire gambling issue as handled in our society.”

More here at TCS Daily.

In addition, here is the CRC denominational statement on gambling:

Pastors and church councils are urged to expose all destructive influences on people’s lives that seek to trivialize or render irrelevant the providence of God. They must also caution against the impact of materialism, take decisive action to combat the evil of gambling, and minister compassionately to those addicted to or victimized by lotteries.

And check out this piece from The Banner, “Texas Hold ‘Em – Finding God in Poker,” as well as the responses here under the section, “Gambling and Grace.”