Global Agenda: Against all odds

The fact that gambling, prostitution and drugs have become more widespread is hardly a compelling argument to legalize them.

September 6, 2007 20:29
3 minute read.
Global Agenda: Against all odds

global agenda 88. (photo credit: )


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Sheldon Adelson has thrown in his hand. The man considered to be the world's richest Jew - and calculated to be amassing wealth at a rate that will make him the world's richest man of any type or stripe within a few years - said in a TV interview to an Israeli channel last week, "I've tried for 18 years and I've given up." He was talking about building a casino here and, as is usual among would-be investors in Israel, Adelson placed the blame for the failure of his plans to be realized on the Israeli government and its officials. Although outsiders are unable to judge the validity of this complaint, it certainly rings true. If so, it should be seen as a major achievement on the part of those ministers, officials and whoever else contributed to preventing the establishment of a casino in Israel down the years. Any objective observer, asked in 1989 what the chances were that legally-sanctioned casinos would be operating in Israel by 2007, would surely have estimated them as very high and Adelson's involvement only increased the chances further. Yet, blessedly, indeed almost miraculously, we remain in a casino-less state. Damaging though his failure may be to his pride, it will be of negligible consequence to Adelson's bulging pockets. The occasion of the interview was the opening of The Venetian, his new mega casino-cum-entertainment complex in Macau, which dwarfs anything in Las Vegas, so that any conceivable Israeli casino would be a flea compared to the offshore Chinese elephant now operating. Seen in this light, Adelson's scorn towards Israeli government officials who - he claimed - thought he was pushing the Israeli project to make money, is highly plausible. Let's, therefore, take at face value his own version - that he was promoting an Israeli casino as a method of boosting the tourist industry and generating jobs. In principle, these are positive and commendable goals, begging the question why the government people were so blinkered and bloody-minded as to wear down even Adelson's determination. The answer is that even in the pursuit of desirable goals, not all means are acceptable. Specifically, in the pursuit of spurring employment and tourism, casinos are of proven efficacy - which is precisely why they should be unacceptable and why it should be a source of great satisfaction to all Israelis that we don't have any. The evidence is overwhelming: casinos, and legalized gambling in general, boost tourism, create jobs and - above all - generate hefty revenues for the sovereign entity in whose domain the gambling takes place. That, after all, is why Las Vegas exists at all in the middle of the Nevada desert. It is also why many American states and many countries in Europe have legalized gambling to a greater or lesser extent. But the bigger the lunch, the less free it turns out to be - although the true costs only emerge in the long run, after the current set of politicos have achieved their quick-fix solution to their current budget problems and/or their re-election requirements. Because the evidence is equally overwhelming that legalized gambling in general, and casinos in particular, create serious long-term problems. They come hand-in-glove with increased criminal activity, from prostitution to racketeering. Indeed, every child with the mildest exposure to TV or cinema knows that organized crime and casinos are as firmly paired as bread and butter. But in addition there is the less dramatic but more pernicious social problem of gambling as an addiction - and its cost in terms of broken families and lives, let alone the mere dollars and cents of lost production, income etc. The main argument of the pro-gambling lobby, after the pseudo-economic one of higher employment, taxes, etc is that it's the rational response to the widespread - in Israel, arguably rampant - existence of illegal gambling. Make it legal, bring it into the light - and collect the taxes it generates to do "good things." This is already official policy here, as in many places, via the various lottery schemes that finance schools, sports clubs etc. But the fact that gambling isn't a substance abuse doesn't change the fact that, like alcohol and drugs, it is an addiction with severe consequences to sufferers and those around them, and hence ultimately to society at large. The fact that gambling, prostitution and drugs have become more widespread is hardly a compelling argument to legalize them - any more than the robbery and violence that accompany these habits. Sometimes, somehow, even Israeli government ministers and officials get something consistently right.

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