HOW do you transform a vice into a virtue? Declare it a state enterprise. That is what has been happening across America for the last three decades as states have sought to bolster their treasuries by legalizing gambling. First local and state lotteries, and then casinos, have become much-overrated sources of revenue.
With the exception of a few states, notably Nevada, and bingo games run by charitable organizations and churches, official gambling run by, or condoned by, states was taboo between 1892, when a corrupt Louisiana lottery was outlawed, and 1963, when tax-shy New Hampshire turned to a state lottery for revenue. New York followed in 1966.
Native American tribes are the latest discoverers of this seeming easy money. Their entry into the business has resulted in recent disputes with state and federal officials.
And now, the deluge. Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, a gambling advocate and devotee, recently prevailed over an anti-gambling lobby that had blocked it for years to win approval of a casino in New Orleans. The proliferation of this activity across the United States is seen in news items such as the following:
"Mississippi Choctaws have struck a deal with a Las Vegas company to develop a $30 million casino project on reservation land near Philadelphia."
"As a debate over casino gambling intensifies in the Connecticut Legislature, casino operators have begun one of the most sophisticated and expensive efforts ever undertaken in this state to win friends and influence the people who count."
"Casinos International, Inc., and the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa Indians said they have signed a contract that calls for the Minneapolis-based casino management firm to oversee construction, financing, and operations of the tribe's casino to be built near Belcourt, N.D."
"Attorneys for 16 tribes and the state have laid out their cards in a ... court battle that will determine the scope of Indian gaming in California."
And so on. But, eventually, the futility of basing economic and social progress on the tossing of dice or twirling of roulette wheels will be generally acknowledged.