Gambling I Gambling I
Some Background • What qualifies as gambling? • If (or when) gambling is morally impermissible, what makes it wrong? • Is it morally acceptable for a government to make gambling illegal?
Lisa Newton, “Why is Gambling Wrong?” Newton’s Project • Newton presents three arguments for the wrongness of gambling based on the notion of stewardship: • That gamblers, in ignoring duties of property ownership, violate an historical taboo; • That none of us truly “own” our property, but act as stewards for God’s property, and by gambling we violate the trust placed in us; and • That we owe society and the nation certain duties of stewardship as regards personal property, and by gambling we violate these duties. • Newton further investigates the question of: • Whether gambling should be made illegal; and • Whether society should encourage gambling.
Is Gambling Wrong? • Gambling does not seem wrong on the basis that it injures others. • Granted that it may injure others (such as the gambler’s family), but this doesn’t seem sufficient to make it wrong. • As the gambler’s family chooses to remain in said situation, it is not a violation of any of their rights. • Such a family might be similarly injured if the individual simply lost his job, and we do not want to say here that he has thus done anything “wrong”. • So, an argument that gambling is wrong cannot come from this sort of consequence (or at least not this alone).
Is Gambling Wrong? (cont’d) • Gambling does not seem wrong on the basis that it injures the gambler. • Again, it may injure the gambler, but as the gambler voluntarily engages in the activity and accepts the risk of loss make the gambler responsible for any injury and not the act of gambling. • Indeed, we have the right to make such mistakes without thereby inviting social interference. • In other words, one might ask, why shouldn’t we be allowed to throw our money away if that’s what we want to do? • Rather, what seems to serve as the basis for the wrongness of gambling is to be found in the duty of stewardship.
Stewardship • Stewardship is about property that is not your own, but is placed in your possession “for safe keeping” by its owner. • The steward is hired (whether literally or figuratively) by the property owner to watch out for his property in his absence. • “If you are a steward, you have property that has been entrusted to you to take care of by the owner, and it is your duty to make sure that it is well maintained, well used by those who use it, improved as appropriate, self-sustaining and profitable.” (162) • If entrusted property gives rise to additional property (say, by an entrusted cow giving birth to a calf), the ensuing property is likewise the subject of stewardship. • Similarly, if the property yields a profit, the money must be appropriately (i.e. safely) invested, unless the actual owner has specified otherwise.
Stewardship (cont’d) • Where there is stewardship, there is also actual ownership—there are no stewards without there also being owners. Argument #1 • Life has, historically, depended in part on what one does with one’s property, balancing investment (saving) and liquidation (spending), with the balance always tipping towards saving. • Historically, those who have failed to properly care for their property (say, by over-liquidating, or taking too many risks) have been destined for bankruptcy and extinction. • This is true both for communities and for individuals.
Stewardship (cont’d) • Although it might not qualify as a duty (“for we cannot get an ought from an is”), failure to treat one’s property properly has historically ensured that one is thus unable to transmit one’s property (or culture, or anything) to one’s descendents (because one is that much less likely to have any). • In essence, Wilson is making a morally-charged argument on something like a principle of natural advantage. • Wilson could conceivably extend this argument to our (morally) owing something to our future descendents (and she points in this direction), though such an argument is a difficult one.
HEY! THAT’S MY STUFF! Stewardship (cont’d) Argument #2 • There is a question of whetherproperty can be “owned” byhumans at all. • The notion here is that, as the creatorof everything, God has ownership rightsover everything. • “To the extent that we ‘own’ property, under the secular laws of our land at this time, we actually hold it in trust for God, we are His stewards, and […] we can be called from this life at any moment to render an account to God of our stewardship…” (163)
Stewardship (cont’d) Argument #3 (A secular version of Argument #2) • There is a strong social interest in “the care and conservation of all property in the commonwealth” and so the public at large has a justified concern in how you treat and dispose of your wealth. • (Certainly, society already places restrictions and duties on what I can and cannot do with my ‘private property’.) • Putting such property at risk thus is to discount the interest that the public has in my property.
Should Gambling Be Illegal? • It seems a problematic (and perhaps dangerous) move to legally prohibit gambling. • Where a ‘crime’ consists of acts between consenting adults, it tends to make enforcement very difficult. • Moreover, such ‘crimes’ tend to bring about police and political corruption. • Criminalizing such activities tends to only drive such business ‘underground’, making it that much more difficult to help those who want out. • Finally, such criminalization tends to lead to blackmailing, loan-sharking, organized crime, and other such undesirable consequences. • As long as there is a willing market for gambling, and money to pay for it, criminalizing gambling “will have no effect but to degrade participants and law enforcement alike.” (164)
Then Should Society Encourage Gambling? What are the benefits of legalized gambling? • Jobs • Both in construction and in operation in restaurants, casinos, maintenance, maid service… (and at union wages!) • The cost of construction will be met by banks and venture capitalists rather than the casinos relying on government subsidies and tax breaks. • Public revenue • Any legal income is taxable, including income made by the casinos, and that made by the gamblers. • To many, this seems a preferable source of income to new taxes, and is endlessly profitable. • Speaking of taxes, casinos will also have to pay real estate taxes, utilities…
Then Should Society Encourage Gambling? (cont’d) • “And the beauty of it all is that the whole profitable deal is entirely voluntary and without limit. No one loses money at the tables who has not asked to do so… [T]he more casinos, the more hours they are open, the higher the state revenue from casino gambling. What could be the objections to this goose of endless golden eggs?” (164) • The benefits of the state lottery are similar to those of casino gambling, but on a smaller scale.
Then Should Society Encourage Gambling? (cont’d) What are the drawbacks of legalized gambling? • As an illegal activity, gambling attracts a number of evils. There is little reason to think legalizing gambling will suddenly make it a clean and harmless activity for ordinary citizens. • “The picture given of the life of the casinos, and of the pockets of poverty in the cities that harbor them, is of human associations severely unbalanced, engines to produce human misery behind the shield of ‘voluntary participation.’” (165)
Then Should Society Encourage Gambling? (cont’d) • It is unclear that the legalization of gambling does or would benefit “the lot of the least advantaged” (John Rawls’ basis of justice). • Gambling seems to take from the poor, who gamble, and give to the rich. • Effectively, gambling takes disproportionately from the poor and almost none from the successful professional class. “This is clearly unjust.” (165) • The poor seem disproportionately unaware of the odds of winning at gambling.
Then Should Society Encourage Gambling? (cont’d) Counterarguments • It seems not only that the disadvantaged are happier for the opportunity to gamble, but also that it is rational for them to do so. • It gives them hope. • Hope is not irrational. It may be the poor’s one hope at the American dream. • “Never mind that the chances are miniscule; without the ticket, they are nonexistent.” (165) • The numbers racket (confined almost exclusively to the ghetto) is “a social event with its own gratifying rituals and non-material rewards.” (165)