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The success of new regulatory systems has recently led many state governments to legalize lotteries on a large scale, thus reversing a century-and-a-half old policy of suppression.
In the past two hundred years, British and American gambling laws have undergone profound changes.
Government policy, which was originally directed at the suppression of gambling, has developed to the point where gambling is now recognized as a legitimate recreational activity that needs only to be regulated to prevent excess and fraud.
If history teaches any lesson, it is that each form of gambling must be examined on its own terms. The law has taken a few 'gambling positions'.
Instead, it has attempted to deal with public or private lotteries, wagering, and in specific locations, betting on sporting or other events, machine gambling, and casino-type operations.
Reformers, too, ought to distinguish these types of gambling in discussions of reform.
Careful attention has always been placed on its social consequences. It has always been recognized, too, that its different forms have had different consequences.
Questions must be asked about who operates it, who participates in it, levels of participation, methods of promotion, places of participation, and degrees of regulation.
A publicly run lottery, only mildly advertised and selling high-price tickets to the middle and upper classes to finance needed social improvements, is gambling in its most benign form.
A private lottery, fraudulently milking the poor for the benefit or organized crime that serves as a source of public corruption and the capitalization of other criminal endeavors, is gambling in its most vicious form.
Other combinations of these basic elements will, of course, produce forms of gambling having different mixtures of benefit and burden. The obvious point is that each new combination must be evaluated on its own terms.
It seems that other people's ability to control various forms of gambling through law enforcement varies. It is too often observed that gambling enforcement is inherently ineffective.
Generally, this is said with only one form of gambling in mind, but the statement is uttered without qualification.
History shows that gambling enforcement can be quite effective with the commitment of few resources against some of its public forms. The federal gambling-ship legislation was effective upon passage.
Few enforcement efforts have been taken, yet the statute has been singularly successful. Similarly, overt casino or machine gambling can be controlled with a minimum of honest enforcement personnel.
It is only when efforts are made to control clandestine private lotteries or sports wagering that the problems tend to outrun society's present level of enforcement resources.
The formulation of new gambling policies, therefore, ought to proceed in full awareness of these distinctions and of enforcement limitation.
Here in Nevada, as elsewhere, people get what they are willing to pay for.Share on: