Lotteries and casinos are two peas in the same pod as far as vices are concerned

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
October 27, 2002

Eight years ago, I attended the opening ceremonies for the Harrah's casino on the Indian reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina. It was the only time I have ever been in a casino. It struck me as odd that an area so known for its beauty, nestled within the grandeur of the mountains, would build a tourist attraction with no windows. I just didn't get it.

But a lot of people do get it. They love to pull the levers (or push the buttons) and watch the fake wheels of a computer slot machine whirl with the promise of riches and flashing lights. That's fine with me. I am sure a lot of people would argue that Wall Street is a lot like Las Vegas, except without Wayne Newton and the watered down drinks.

Everyone has hobbies. But one man's hobby is another man's vice. Is gambling detrimental to society and devastating to certain individual families? In some cases, of course it is. But so are fried cheese and ice cream. More people die from diabetes than gambling. And while I have never seen studies on the issue, I would be shocked if the societal cost of gambling even closely compares to the burden we all pay as a result of obesity and heart disease.

I have driven past houses that barely qualify as slums ' places where it is obvious the children in the house lack decent living conditions ' and seen expensive fishing boats parked next to expensive pick-up trucks. My guess is that there were more cell phones in those shacks than encyclopedias or learning aids.

Like ice cream and Wayne Newton, bass boats can be enjoyed to excess.

The lottery question on the November 5 ballot is an interesting one.

I have no interest in trying to legislate my neighbor's hobbies, even if his family suffers as a result of his activities. There are plenty of other, more helpful, ways I can react to poor decisions by my neighbor ' and I have a moral obligation to act in certain circumstances. But it seems silly to me for the state to say that one vice/hobby (pouring money down a black hole, er' I mean gambling) should be illegal while another (clogging your arteries with lard and eventually increasing the TennCare and Medicare expenditures of the government) is perfectly fine.

But I am still against a lottery.

It is ironic for the government (that is, the people) to decide that gambling is so immoral and destructive that it should only be organized and offered by the government. That sounds like a crack dealer trying to protect his street corner from competing entrepreneurs.

How can someone favor a state-run lottery and be against full-scale casino gambling? Personally, I would prefer to let the private sector open casinos rather than the state run a lottery. If you are concerned about the seedy elements attracted by unfettered gambling, you obviously haven't been in Nashville while the legislature is in session. Walk the halls of the Legislative Plaza and you will long for the purity and innocence of the Strip in Las Vegas.

I don't understand how an activity can be so harmful that only the government should run it. We should either have gambling or not. One cannot be a little pregnant.

I will never lose a penny in a lottery. But I might benefit from the program(s) one would fund. As someone who pays more in taxes than I receive in government services, the lottery as a tax is perversely appealing to me. But do we really want to grant a Constitutional gambling monopoly to an entity with the fiscal track record of the Tennessee state government? That would be like putting Shoney's in charge of a federal low-fat dietary program.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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