May 25, 2015

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Place your bets

Published 10:23 am Tuesday, May 13, 2014

“Gambling and green” was perhaps the more appropriate headline at this desk to begin the week, as an anonymous letter to the editor and a telling survey from academia crossed paths.
The letter was folded like a business letter, save for a mysteriously torn bottom third. Its author is either an ardent supporter of online gambling or a master of dry wit. The envelope’s Jackson postmark and dramatic, horror movie scrawl-job on the Post’s physical address are the letter’s lone identifiers.
The point it tried to make? It said casinos should hold classes on how to look up horse racing information on the Internet so young adults can become more interested in “casino gaming,” as it names the subject. Sources such as The Daily Racing Form, Brisnet, Equibase and others can be put at young people’s fingertips via their smartphones and tablets to grow the industry in the state. “All young adults carry phones. It would be good publicity and it would impress their friends to hear them placing bets on the phone,” the nameless author said.
Whether it was tongue-in-cheek or not, the letter had a plaintive tone that, on its face, was at odds with results of a poll released last week by Fairleigh Dickinson University.
The institution’s latest PublicMind poll showed more Americans seem to favor legalized marijuana to online gambling. The final score on that poll was essentially 2-1, with the answer to pollsters’ “which is more preferable” question at 52 percent for the green and 20 percent for the gambling.
Here’s the part where drawing conclusions gets interesting – on both counts. I’ll count the letter as a sideways glance at the industry – a slight kick in the leg, as some in Europe like to say. We’ve gotten many more letters in my time with the paper from folks against gambling than from the people who don’t have a problem with casinos being such a large part of the economy in the counties where they operate.
As for the legalization question, let’s look at how the pollsters summarized it. It was a nationwide poll that hit both landline and cellphones of 1,151 adults aged 18 and older. For you statistics fans out there, the margin of error was where you’d want it in order to be a good poll, at +/- 2.9 points. It mentions New Jersey (home to the university’s main U.S. campus) having legalized Internet gaming despite many polls showing the public opposed to it. It’s one of three states where online gambling is legal, along with Delaware and Nevada. Conversely, the Garden State and many other states haven’t legalized marijuana despite polls showing support for it. “This is a disconnect between public opinion and public policy,” noted the poll’s director, Krista Jenkins, also a professor of political science at the school.
With that statement, Jenkins hits on the essence of the two issues. She struck a humorous   tone with another quoted line in a summary posted on the PublicMind website. The two issues are very similar in that both internet gambling and marijuana use take place whether regulated or not, she said, adding “but Americans do not have the appetite or munchies for legalizing Internet gambling as they do for marijuana.” Political party identification was a factor in the poll, as self-described Democrats chose “pot over bets” at a 64 percent clip. Republicans were more divided in the poll – 29 percent found legal online gambling preferable, 32 percent preferred marijuana and 22 percent said neither should be legal and couldn’t decide.
Placing a bet on which issue will enjoy some consistency between public opinion and public policy is tough. There are cultural currents in the ocean that is both issues. And there’s the structure as well, in that both are illegal and, thus, present an arduous task to create a framework in which to tax it. Lest we forget taxes are the food that feeds government in the first place.
In that respect, we have precisely the government that reflects our own habits. It only likes to eat things that are quick, easy and convenient.

Danny Barrett Jr. is a reporter and can be reached by email at danny.barrett@vicksburgpost.com or by phone at 601-636-4545.