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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pennsylvania's Government: We fight drugs and vice, well unless we get a piece of the action!

I find the table games gambling debate in Harrisburg both fascinating and sad.

Fascinating because our "leaders" are engaged in this intricate dance about table games, debating and arguing, but it's all for naught: table games will come, the state will get its cut, and legislators will get more WAM to buy re-election (I mean to dispense to worthy local projects).

Sad because this is yet again another example of a government that is at best two-faced when it comes to vice & drugs; at worst I'd describe Pennsylvania's legal endorsement of gambling and the twin drugs of alcohol (where the state has a monopoly on certain sales) & nicotine as being engaged in organized crime. For example...

...when Tony Soprano collects a cut from a poker-table at a hotel in the Poconos it's called "illegal"

...when Eddie Rendell and the members of the Legislature collect a cut from table games in various Pennsylvania casinos, it's called "revenue"

In both cases, it's still gambling, right? What makes one "illegal" while the other is considered "revenue"?

As for drugs, anyone who thinks that alcohol and nicotine aren't drugs needs their head examined. They are both very, very powerful drugs. Nicotine addiction has been described as being as powerful as that of various opiates. I guess it's a good thing that they don't dispense Methadone as a treatment for smoking, as the residents of Dunmore would be screwed. Not to be outdone, alcohol addition affects as many as 14 million Americans. We all know this stuff, but sometimes we kid ourselves into thinking that somehow how nicotine and alcohol are "different" than other drugs; let's be intellectually honest for a moment: they are not. The ONLY thing different in this case is that as a course of history & tradition, the government has decided that THESE DRUGS are somehow acceptable.

All of the above does beg a valid question though: if Pennsylvania can make revenue from gambling and some drugs, why not end the hypocrisy and simply legalize all vice? Let's open 6 regional Crystal Meth labs (two in Bradford County) and impose a 25% tax on the sale. Let's legalize betting on all sports and open parlors in the casinos. Let's open Opium dens in all the major cities and charge a $25 entrance feel. Why not?

Now for the record, I don't smoke, I only very occasionally drink (and then it's just a glass of wine), I don't gamble and I've never tried an illegal drug. Maybe my attitude is too Puritanical. However I am very fond of personal responsibility, so if someone else has a vice, then that's their problem, as long as it doesn't negatively impact me. I also know that some vices don't automatically lead to terrible consequences: some people enjoy gambling every once in a while, some folks can drink in moderation and some may actually enjoy a recreational drug every now and then and not be seriously impacted. My point though is that we are allowing Pennsylvania's government to become this bizarre peddler of vice and viewing it through this sanitized, amoral lens, as if there were not ever any other consequences (as long as the government is involved). The fact is that when government becomes involved in vice, it simply pushes out other middle-men.

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