How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm?

by David Sisler

Just in time for Christmas, the Coeur d'Alene, a tribe of native Americans in Idaho plan to open the country's first national lottery. If you want to play, it will no longer be necessary to stand in line in a smoke-filled convenience store. Just use your telephone and pay with a credit card.

If you want something a little more exciting than picking a few numbers, a California company has something which might interest you. They expect to have an on-line casino ready within the next 12 months. Just turn on your computer and start losing. Excuse me, winning.

And my native Maryland, that beautiful state just a few hundred miles north of here, but still below the Mason-Dixon Line, gave two horse-racing tracks permission to test an in-state wagering system using interactive television. With apologies to Meredith Wilson, like to see some stuck up jockey-boy sitting on "Dan Patch"? Make your blood boil? Well, I should say. But now you no longer need to leave home.

In-home gambling gives a whole new meaning to the term "consenting adults." Where once a man's home was his castle, now it may become a casino.

A task force appointed by Illinois Governor Jim Edgar recently recommended that the state's horse-racing industry be allowed to take bets over the telephone. The task force touted the move as a way to attract players between 25 and 40, a generation that generally has favored other forms of gambling.

Seven states already allow telephone wagering. They probably won't be the last.

Maybe you are old enough to remember John Houseman rumbling, "At Smith Barney they make money the old fashioned way. They earn it!" Evidently things have changed. Smith Barney now has a staff of gambling analysts. They are betting that at-home wagering could become a $10 billion industry.

Gambling continues to grow. Approximately $400 billion is wagered legally each year in the United States. That figure is equal to about one-quarter of the federal budget.

Gambling, it seems, is no longer a question of morality. It isn't even a question of technology. It's a question of what the regulators will allow. In the past decade, one state after another has embraced gambling as the need for tax revenue has overcome all moral reservations.

At the moment there is a Federal ban against interstate gambling. But don't breathe too easily. Wait until our elected representatives figure out they can raise staggering sums of money by putting Uncle Sam's fingers into the gambling pie, and that ban will soon be banned. It's easier than cutting Grandma's social security, and politically, a whole lot safer.

Think that won't happen? Well, the next Saturday night when you have to stand in line to buy a soft drink or pay for your gas because the joint is full of gamblers buying lottery tickets, just remember -- all of that money goes for education, or for the elderly, or some other worthy cause. At least that's the way they sold it to us. But some studies show that after a while, states with lotteries just shift revenue and the above-listed worthy causes find themselves no better off. And the whole state is a great deal poorer because of the something-for-nothing mentality.

The prospect of Federal regulations may be a non-issue, as anyone who has discovered the wonderful world of cyberspace can tell you. From my PC, I regularly talk to a computer in Norway and download programs from that Internet site. Some off-shore gambling sites already exist and are easily reached with a simple communications software package.

Henry Lesieur, a sociologist and gambling expert who heads the department of criminal justice at Illinois State University, sounds a warning that very likely will be lost amidst the clinking of all of those winnings being counted: "You're going to be at home, and you're going to be losing the very home where you're at by playing on your computer."

To some casino gamblers, the prospect of wagering at home is not appealing. One woman, who identified herself as a regular casino gambler said, "It's like the Home Shopping Network. I don't like that, either. I'd rather go out and shop."

I agree. But last year the Home Shopping Network's sales topped $1.1 billion.

I have searched the Bible in vain for a scripture which says, "Thou shalt not gamble." Such a verse does not exist. There is plenty of warning about greed and avarice, plenty of advice about being content with the blessings God has already provided. As close as I can come is the morning Jesus was crucified -- the soldiers gambled for His garments. That is certainly a less than savory group with which to be associated.

It is probably very naive to think that the nation-wide rush to gambling can be slowed, let alone stopped. But if you want to be on a sure thing, here is one -- if no one plays, we all win.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 7/1/95

Copyright 1995 by David Sisler

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