08/9/12

Casinos and Daycares

So I have a friend who has a friend who does sweepstakes as a hobby. I know. Sounds like doing bath salts as a dessert. Or doing your nails as massage. Wait. People actually do that. Anyway, he raked. Like a serious family vacay every year. Hawaii not Dollywood. Sorry, Mom and Dad (they’re D-Wood GOLD VIP.) He had a garage and guest room full of prize. A dozen waffle irons. Four mopeds. A year’s supply of Mop ‘n Glow. Stacked to the ceiling, Ali Baba style. (I’m just guessing about the waffle irons; that would be pretty amazing though.)

So he set aside $30 every month of discretionary household money. Instead of golfing or fishing or a gym membership or coin collecting or LARPing, he would use the $30 to purchase postage for various nationwide and regional promotional giveaways. Apparently there is a publication that provides regular information about sweepstakes and their specifications. Region. Number of prizes. Advertising reach. So if a large number of prizes were being given away in a promotion of limited reach, you had a sense about the probability of winning.

Anyway, a new golf club company was giving away 30 bags of clubs. My friend told me that his friend said that this was pretty much a sweepstakes lead-pipe cinch. Sure enough, all three of us won. 10% of the bags. And, that’s why, to this day, you’ll never catch me driving anything other than a Slotline. “Slotline. Keep your slot right on the line.” ?? I’m not sure they actually have a slogan. And, the fact you’ve never heard of Slotline or that Tiger Woods wouldn’t scratch his backside with a Slotline or that his wife wouldn’t even use a Slotline to bust out a windshield to kill her husband is just a testimony to the good ol’ boy, backward mentality of golf. Unbelievable. Because, I’ve used a Slotline. And, trust me. It will put you into the same woods as your fancy sticks — for half the price.

So as it turns out, my friend’s friend was a pastor. Playing games of chance. The shame. “The Devil’s Ruse.” “Hell’s Gambit.” “The Card Shuffle Souffle.” “Roulette’s Underpants.” “The Snake Oil Milkshake.” “The Ol’ Getcha.” (I made all of those up.)

So in the civilizing process there are, over time, certain behaviors that are necessary to circumscribe. Not because they are inherently all bad themselves, but because they associate other lesser desired conduct and reduce, overall, civility. The “broken windows” criminological theory relies on this idea to explain the correlation between the disrepair of buildings and crime. Broken windows and general urban disorder have a tendency to signal to individuals that crime and anti-social behavior is permissible in that area. Simple building maintenance can transform the entire psychological view of the community.

A similar phenomenon happens in my bedroom. The more empty Diet Mountain Dew cans on my desk the more likely I am to disrobe right in the middle of the room.

In a related sense, cultural signals like tattoos or gambling or body piercing have been taboo, in large part, because they were associated with certain rebellious or immoral conduct or people and not because those aesthetic trappings or activities were so terribly horrible in themselves.

At some point, however, we become sufficiently entrenched in the habits of civility that we can revisit certain taboos without risk of resurrecting the associated and undesireable other conduct — like steer ropin’!

I can’t say it any better than Steve Pinker summarizes in his new book, that I can’t seem to stop quoting, Better Angels of our Nature:

The cliche about Generation X . . . was that they were media-savvy, ironic, postmodern. They could adopt poses, try on styles, and immerse themselves in seedy cultural genres without taking any of them too seriously. . . . the journalist David Brooks observed that many members of the middle class have become “bourgeois bohemians” who affect the look of people at the fringes of society while living a thoroughly conventional lifestyle.

And, this is true, right? It’s just as likely that your friend’s mom will have a tribal butterfly tattoo or nose ring today as the crook or harlot or whomever society might have historically associated with those items. And, that mom has a professional career, PTA membership, and a sustainability compost pile. (Wait is that a smoldering pile upon which we compost all things sustainable??!)

My wife swears that if she ever got one, she would go full tattoo sleeve on both arms. This is the same woman that is uncomfortable with light forehead perspiration at like a CiCi’s Pizza or, I don’t know, a gymnasium.

So when New Jersey thumbs its nose at federal gambling laws and the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”), by passing its own legislation to legalize sports betting in its state, any outcry against the decision rings sort of parochial and schoolmarmish.

The NJ legislation has some legal obstacles. The kind of monopoly or dissimilar treatment to operate in sports gambling given, by PASPA, to Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon but not other states, has precedent in commerce clause jurisprudence. At the same time some of the policy arguments, rooted in these sort of dying social norms discussed above, for disallowing states to adopt sports betting across the board, are losing their efficacy. Especially in light of the mounting hypocrisy of sports leagues who knowingly benefit in all kinds of direct and indirect ways from it but would now resist, by filing a lawsuit, its expansion to other states, like NJ.

Gambling used to be the thing of gunslingers and gangsters and guys smoking cubans. But, there is legal sports betting in Las Vegas. They talk about game lines on ESPN (they host a “Behind the Bets” podcast for heaven’s sake). Your sister plays fantasy football and participates in a March Madness pool. Sports betting is no longer a marginalized activity of organized criminals (although, ironically, its very criminality allows such people to still flourish at it).

At this point, it’s simply another form of acceptable entertainment and leisure. We waste dollars on unserious, ephemeral things all the time. A movie. A sporting event. A vacation to Disney World. Computer technology. And, trust me, we can become addicted to it all. Gambling isn’t some vice unto its own in that regard (that’s not to say that games of chance cannot sometimes prey disproportionately on the poor but so can all variety of bad money management invited by such socio-economic circumstances).

The day is coming. Sports gambling will be legalized. Heavily regulated. Appropriately scrutinized. But, legal.

High rolling pastors and tattoo sleeved wives everywhere essentially guarantee it.

P.S. RG3, Bolt, & Howard???!!

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by Sundance.

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Sharps and Squares