I was thinking about it this morning when I read Steve Friess' well reasoned Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed in favor of Wynn Resorts' new Philadelphia casino plan. And while I don't really like what I consider the unfortunate "liberal elite" right-wing framing, I otherwise dig what "The Friesster" is saying about the reality of casino gambling today.
But what's really behind the objections is the East Coast liberal elite's instinctive propensity to react badly to gambling. For some reason, the fact that the vast majority of casino-goers have no trouble keeping their spending within reason escapes these critics, who also tend to believe that poor people are stupid, defenseless, and without willpower.
Gambling is regressive, they claim, rarely noting that the lottery already exists in Pennsylvania. Lotteries create no jobs and require no infrastructure or capital investment. Casinos, by contrast, are actual physical spaces focused on customer service.
To play in a casino, one must make an effort to go somewhere and enter a controlled, adults-only environment. Taking a go at the lottery requires nothing more than a trip to the corner store. Even if you buy the notion that poor folks are idiots who are incapable of controlling the urge to bet with their milk money, isn't it better to separate gambling from the places where people actually buy milk?
Casino-goers are suckers, gambling foes always say. And yet, after many years covering the business in Las Vegas, I have yet to meet a patron who is unaware that the odds are against him. Most gamblers expect to lose; if they break even or win, they're pleasantly surprised.
Most players see gambling not as investment, but as entertainment - which is why your Aunt Fern goes to the church for bingo night. Nobody ever suggests people are suckers for spending big bucks at an Eagles game, so why the judgment of folks who define a good time as a few hours at a blackjack table?
The irony of criticisms to the effect that Wynn will create something "cheesy" is that his record of accomplishment in design is the strongest argument in his favor. This is a man batting a thousand in creating places with class and beauty. It's unlikely that he would put his reputation behind something lousy for a quick buck.
As you all know quite well by now, I'm not a fan of Steve Wynn's far right economic theories and political philosophy. However, I do LOVE his casinos... And I do agree that it's unfair to criticize him for "preying after the poor" when he's clearly after a more well-heeled set of customers.
And stepping back to the larger question of casino gambling, I have to object to all the "holier-than-thou" arguments about casinos being thieves and casino-goers being greedy fools. Most players these days know that casino gaming is entertainment, plain and simple. Occasionally I might hear my dad or another visiting family member or a friend complain about "tight slots", but they know they can't make a living off the casinos.
And ultimately, this comes down to the question of free will, consumer choice, and civil liberties. Do we really want to use the force of local, state, and or (gawd, I hope it never comes to this!) federal government to tell people what they are and are not allowed to do on their free time?
I especially find some of these anti-casino cries hypocritical when the same folks don't object to lotteries. Lotteries are gambling, too... But unlike casinos, they don't provide as many jobs and economic opportunities.
But anyway, back to casinos. I'm always irritated when the religious right tries to shove its "moral values" down our thorats in telling us what we can and can not do (determined by how they interpret The Bible). However, I'm equally irritated when I hear progressives try to make the case that gambling is some viral disease that infects people, and we somehow must enforce bans to prevent people from catching it.
Gambling is ultimately a choice. One can choose to play, and one can choose not to. Kids have video games and arcades, and adults have video poker, slot machines, table games, and sports betting. And seriously, what's the difference between those "video games" at Dave & Buster's and casino slot machines? One accepts tickets and offers prizes... While the other accepts tickets and offers prizes.
I guess this is my "libertarian streak" coming out. Whatever. I just don't understand those on the right and the left who want to criminalize fun. And ultimately, that's what we all need to remember about casinos. They're operating to provide a fun experience to players, NOT to offer "free money" or "prey after unknowing victims". It's a business. Period.
And while I don't think it's ultimately smart for Nevada for solely rely upon casinos for financial survival, it's foolish to deny that they're an essential part of our economy that won't be disappearing any time soon. And for other states that are now legalizing casino gaming, all they need to do is look at how we handle gaming in Nevada to realize that it isn't scary, it isn't some "one way ticket to hell", and everyone will be fine.