Vice and Virtue in Las Vegas

“Vice and Virtue in Las Vegas,” Wall Street Journal, September 13, 1973.


In short, when government gets into the gambling business it necessarily assumes the responsibilities for seeing that this business grows and prospers. In effect, it proclaims that gambling is not a necessary evil but an inherently good thing. And it does this while telling its citizens that, if they are to be good Americans, they should work hard, save their money, shun all get-rich-quick schemes. Is this not ridiculous? Does it really make sense for the government to insist that no one has a legal right to work for a penny less than the minimum wage and for the government then to encourage us all to blow our week’s wages at the betting cage? Does it really make sense for the government to enact a mountain of legislation—from SEC registration to the labelling of consumer products—which protects people from unwise expenditures while urging them to make the unwisest expenditure of all, i.e., a gambling bet?

Of course it is ridiculous. And dishonest. And corrupting, both of people and government. But the urge to spend the people’s money for the people’s welfare is so powerful (and so mindless) that it actually comes to seem proper to cheat the people in order to get this money to spend on their welfare. This is paternalism run amok.

I have no doubt that there are some silly anti-gaming laws on the books—petty laws, ineffectual laws, which ought simply to be repealed. And if we really are tired and bored with enforcing the laws against gambling, then the honest thing to do is to repeal them as well. Gambling will then be the free folly of an individual.

But if we legalize gambling in principle, and then socialize it to boot, we have declared that it is in no way a blameworthy activity. That’s going too far. One Las Vegas, far away and only sometimes visited, we can easily tolerate—even benignly tolerate. But one is quite enough.