In our continuing analysis of the legality of poker and what plays into it, we continue to break down how public opinion has been shaped over the past few decades.
Today I want to focus on why public perception is different for poker in America versus around the rest of the globe. It’s pretty simple, actually. The “American Experiment,” as Tocqueville coined it in his book Democracy in America, was a two-fold experiment based on freedom: economic freedom to pursue a more prosperous life, and freedom to follow the religion of your choice.
Many immigrants have come to America since the initial New England colonists, sometimes in sweeping waves due to famine, war, or religious persecution. However, it was the colonists that broke away from England who framed the founding documents that established the government, the free market system, and the moral base that shaped the core of the new country. These people were not entrepreneurs who occasionally attended church; they were extremely pious pilgrims and puritans who would fight to the death to defend their right to worship as they believed. The first colleges were established by religious denominations in order to train ministers, and the first life insurance policies in the United States served to provide for the families and replacements of church leaders. Three periods of religious revival known as “The Great Awakening”,”The 2nd Great Awakening”, and “The 3rd Great Awakening” have occurred in America’s history leading to cultural and political changes including the push for abolition of slavery, establishment of new denominations, and the Y.M.C.A.
Let’s face it – gambling has not been given center stage in America. It took the great depression to establish legal gambling in Las Vegas in 1931. 82 years later Vegas and Atlantic City still have only limited competition showing reluctance of most states to fly the gambling banner. However, the tide seems to be changing. The gradual secularization of Western society coupled with states facing increasing economic pressures are leading them to find new revenue streams in lotteries and casinos. Sometimes freedom to pursue a more prosperous life trumps the freedom of those wanting to restrict gambling out of fear that it will lead to moral decay. And not all religions look down on gambling. The Vatican takes a neutral stance on gambling stating that as long as the game is fair and one wagers within their limits without giving in to excess, then gambling is no different than drinking or other indulgences that can be good or bad. The rest of the world seems to support gambling as a revenue driver from locals and tourists alike. Then again, the rest of the world is far more secular in nature as well. For many countries, opulent casinos such as those in Dubai are a sign of prosperity and national wealth. In order to attract big spenders to their poker tables, the casinos must keep the riffraff away and be very inviting.
This is the image many supporters of American casinos have for Las Vegas and what their state could offer in the near future. Could this be the year that states ignore the powerful anti-gambling lobby efforts and vote to keep tax dollars local? We are getting close, but there are still a few institutions that need to take a serious look at their attitudes towards gambling and if current policies are doing more harm than good. We will examine a couple of these next.