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Nevada State Senator Tick Segerblom has introduced a bill that would legalize betting on presidential elections, a practice that is currently outlawed nationwide, including in states that allow other types of gambling. Naturally, this can be expected to raise hackles and invite questions over propriety and the dignity of the office, but why? Why do Americans still display such a distaste for gambling in general, which even in this enlightened age can only be engaged in a select few localities?
The distinction between that type of gambling which is regulated and that which is not has always been rather arbitrary. In a broad sense, every decision we make is a gamble, since none of us has such clairvoyance to guarantee a particular outcome. Everything from crossing the street, to getting married without a prenup, to going ahead and eating those slightly off smelling oysters due to their tantalizingly low prices is, at its core, a gamble.
Some may protest that these examples are not really gambling because they are not purely monetary in nature, but it is difficult to see how decisions about personal finance differ substantially from casino gambling. What is the stock market, if not a betting game? How is buying a house in the hopes that its value will rise over time differ from backing a particular horse in the third race? And nowhere is this hypocrisy more apparent than in the case of state lotteries, which offer all the fun of roulette with astronomically worse odds.
Since gambling is legal only in select locations, such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City, there is an artificially enforced scarcity that inhibits competition and makes prices higher than they would otherwise be, inflating profits for the casino owners at the expense of the gambler. Those truly concerned about the well-being of the would-be card shark should welcome the competition that would result in better odds for the poor fellow.
There is a worry that looser gambling laws would turn all cities into seedy dens of iniquity, but other countries have legalized gambling without this becoming a problem, and betting on elections as State Senator Tegerblom proposes is already possible using the Dublin based betting service, InTrade. It is not clear why such a reform would be uniquely problematic in the United States. Indeed, it’s an industry that employs over 100,000 people and generates more than $3.6 billion dollars in wages a year. Just think of the economic boon such an industry could provide if legalzied nationwide.
In any case, the laws have done little to deter people from gambling, at least on a small scale. Living room poker games, bets on the Superbowl, and wagers surrounding elaborate March Madness brackets take place all the time, violations of laws which are as unenforceable as they are absurd. The World Series of Poker is a highly entertaining broadcast, internet gambling is a vital industry that has done nothing to harm the fabric of the country, and even a squeaky-clean Mormon like Mitt Romney can find enjoyment in an occasional $10,000 bet.
Casino gambling is in fact nothing more than another form of entertainment. If, rather than throw their money away on tickets and overpriced concessions to view whatever digitally rendered abomination Hollywood is now thrusting upon us, some people would simply prefer to spend that money at the gaming table, why should they not be allowed to do so?
The bottom line is that people should be free to do what they choose with their own money. Whether that involves starting a business, investing in gold, or placing a friendly wager on a hot air balloon race around the world is no business of the government’s. Anti-gambling regulations are outdated, inconsistent and anti-freedom and should be repealed, not just for Nevada, but for all Americans who would like to make their sports, their games and yes, even their elections, just a little more interesting.