Vice Squad
Monday, April 12, 2004
 
Building Support for Gambling Prohibition


The friends of legal vices tend to do more to bring them into disrepute than do their avowed foes. Today brings two gambling stories that are unlikely to play well with the median voter. The first concerns a British man who staked his entire wealth on one spin of the roulette wheel. (How do we know it was his entire wealth? Well, he signed an affidavit to that effect -- you see, it was a made-for-media event, with the spin being broadcast on Britain's Sky One.) The punter plopped down his $135,000 or so on red at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas, and his choice proved fortuitous. So, he doubled his money, though taxes will take a significant bite. This AP story does not mention the taxes, and is misleadingly headlined "Man Bets Life Savings, Wins $270,600" -- his pre-tax winnings were only half of that amount. Nor is the story tempered with any discussion of why this might not be such a good idea. We look forward to the torrent of copycats, the majority of whom will not be so lucky.

[Update: Will Baude at Crescat picked up on this post -- while adding a helpful dollop of Kipling -- and has motivated me to make a clarification. My concern with this stunt is not so much with the gambler in question, but rather with the casino's willingness to go along with the publicity. I guess I am not happy about the media sponsorship either, but I have come to expect that. The casino should not have allowed the filming of this wager nor been an active participant in any way, I think; but the last paragraph of the AP story indicates that the casino essentially lent its imprimatur to this potentially perilous frolic. I believe that promotional controls that would bar such active participation by casinos might be appropriate, though I might also hope for better sense from the casino management itself.]

Incidentally, a bet on red on a typical roulette wheel in a US casino has a probability of winning of about 47.4% -- there are 18 red numbers, 18 black numbers, and a zero and a double zero. Europe dispenses with the double zero, so the probability of winning a bet on red (or on black, of course), is higher in Europe, at .486.

Gambling is much more popular in Australia than in Europe or in the US, and of course, there are many people in Australia and elsewhere who are afflicted with gambling problems. Gamblers Anonymous tries to help those who find that their gambling has become problematic. Unfortunately, visitors to the website of the Australian branch of GA have been met with pop-up advertisements for -- you guessed it -- casinos. (More fuel for my ongoing rant that advertising controls often are a useful part of the regulatory regime governing legal vices.)

If the title of this post sounds familiar, it is because just a few posts ago there was a similar headline involving alcohol.

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