Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Red Man's Revenge

There can be no real dispute that the native American population of the US suffered grievously at the hands of the European settlers. There can be no doubt that they were treated unfairly and unjustly, even by the justice standards of the white man. Of course, I wasn't party to any of that. Like most of us today, I simply inherited what was taken from the native Americans.

However, in today's world, considerable revenge is being inflicted on Americans by the scourge of the gambling casinos that have sprung up with the blessing of state and Federal government. Outside of Nevada, these new casinos generally are in the hands of the various "Indian" tribes. These are taking advantage of gambling addicts - people who are compulsive gamblers and have as much trouble controlling their addiction as those who smoke or who have become alcoholics or who use illegal drugs. [Curiously, another side of the Red Man's Revenge is the sale of tax-free tobacco in "Indian Smoke Shops" that also have become widespread.]

Gambling is a passion I never developed because I have some understanding of the laws of probability. If you gamble in a casino, you're going to lose. The more you gamble, the more you lose. No one walks away from the casinos a winner unless they walk away forever. Frankly, I don't call what goes on in a casino gambling at all - it's simply throwing away your hard-earned income. I consider something to be a gamble only when the odds are exactly 50-50, but the casinos have set the odds so they simply can't lose money. If they "pay back" 95% of their take, that means that they pocket 5% of the money they take in, day in and day out. When the odds are 5% in your favor, you want to encourage as many people as possible to participate. The more players, the bigger the take.

Part of the addiction may be the allure of "something for nothing" but I'm no expert on the psychology of gambling addicts. They apparently can't see or choose to ignore the reality that casinos simply can't be in the business of giving away money - they're in the business of taking in money from their customers, just like any other business. No one in a business that gave away money could stay in business for long. How the individual tribes distribute that income is another issue - one I'm not prepared to address. But casinos give no product or service in return - only whatever "entertainment" value is associated with the process of taking your money. I fail to see the entertainment of that, but that's just my perspective.

Gambling addiction has destroyed families, ruined lives, and created economic problems for millions of people. The compulsive gambler lies, steals, cheats - whatever is necessary to obtain the funds to continue to gamble. Those with this affliction aren't necessarily immoral or stupid; they're simply addicted to gambling. The pain and anguish this has caused compulsive gamblers, their families, and their friends is enormous. I'm not interested in legislating people's behavior (see my essay about the futility of marijuana prohibition), but it's evident to me that the casinos' gains represent a major problem for this nation. The native Americans are indeed obtaining revenge, whether or not that was their intent in opening these casinos. Prohibition isn't an answer but I don't know any easy answers, just as I have no easy answers for alcoholism, drug addiction, etc. We apparently have a host of sicknesses in our society, one of which is compulsive gambling. What does that say about us? I'm not sure the answer to that is going to be something good.

1 comment:

===== Roger ===== said...

It's not just the Indian casinos. I recall, when living in Kansas City, the corporate (Vegas) casino firms were allowed to set up shop on "boats" that were moored by the shore of the Missouri River. We lived not very far from Harrah's, and my then-wife and I went there mostly to eat their good buffet food, and a couple of times, to gamble quarter slots on a strict ($20 spent-and-done) limit. We exercised rigid self discipline and had no problems...that is, except for the sight that ended my (very small and limited) gambling for good.

One day we saw several buses pull up and unload numerous elderly people, who we later learned came from area nursing homes, old-folks' apartment complexes and assisted-living centers. I watched them fill up the slot halls, turning into glassy-eyed drones draining away rivers of their life's savings.

I'm not painting them as victims, because the label "victim" unfairly absolves the individual of responsibility for what truly is a chosen behavior. But one sight, in particular, turned me off the idea of casino gambling for good: An osteoporosis ridden woman in her 70s, hunched over between two slots, playing them both at once by tapping the credit button over and over as she looked at neither. I walked by her and took careful note of the blank stare, zombie-like, directed at the wall between and behind the slots, as she mindlessly spent untold hundreds of dollars just to press a yellow lighted button over, and over, and over.

I didn't set foot in there again, great food be damned. Principle mattered more. These people were allowing the casino to take advantage of their addictions, and the casino was obliging. It was just a sobering and shameful scene. I wanted no part of that racket, in any way, shape or form.

It happens nationwide, to the tune of billions of dollars of lost wages, lifes' savings, ruined relationships, suicides, hocked possessions, and so forth, as you alluded. I agree that it is a scourge. And I also agree that there is no easy solution, because over-regulation would just drive it under the table. Ultimately, victory over gambling (or any other potentially addictive behavior) comes from *within*, from the individual. Education helps. Ignorance hurts. Prevention probably is the best solution in the end. The more people realize what a huge individual and collective collective waste of time and money it is, the less of a foothold gambling will have on our society.

===== Roger =====