In Las Vegas, the inside of a casino in the dead of night looks absolutely no different than the inside of a casino in the middle of the afternoon. There are no windows to let in natural light. There are no clocks on the walls to remind gamblers that they may have obligations elsewhere. Every enticement — free drinks, free food, plentiful entertainment — is provided to keep people spending money at the tables.
There is little, in other words, to remind people of responsibilities or accountability.
As a recent story in the Deseret News noted, a move is afoot to legalize gambling in more states as a means of combating a sluggish economy. However, according to a recent Pew Center on the States research study, of the 48 states that have some form of legalized gambling, only two have managed to reach their initial revenue projections. And while gambling doesn't significantly broaden the tax base, it still somehow manages to jack up crime rates. Studies show that when a casino opens its doors, robberies in the area increase almost immediately. After five years, property crime increases by an average of 8.6 percent, while violent crime goes up by a staggering rate of 12.6 percent.
Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that casinos are not economic development. They don't produce or sell anything of value, they just suck money away from people with the false lure of getting rich, and the taxes they raise come mostly from the poor and middle class, quite the opposite of the kinds of tax policies many politicians push in their campaign speeches.
Legalized gambling is not really a gamble at all — at least not for those behind it. Casino owners know that if they can keep people betting long enough, even the hottest winning streak will go cold and, sooner or later, they will throw away a great deal of money in an attempt to come out ahead. That's not optimism; it's basic statistics. The games are all structured so that, over time, it's mathematically impossible for the house to lose.
All too often, that provides a powerful incentive for government to become "the house" themselves in order to find a new source of revenue. The siren song of legalized gambling has lured many a local legislature toward the promise of easy money, but inevitably state governments that succumb to this temptation find themselves crashing against the rocks of unrealistic expectations and staggering social costs.
Gambling ultimately fails to generate long-term because it's a zero-sum game that transfers wealth without producing it. Families in poverty buy, on average, three times as many lottery tickets as the average middle-class family. This unconscionable tax on the poor inevitably leads to markedly increased rates of addiction, divorce, and suicide. Ultimately, it's a game where nobody wins.
Utah has wisely avoided any form of legalized gambling. Holding the line will help make the state's economy stronger in the long run.