Leo Morris: Gambling is a fickle game

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Suppose I told you I spend a lot of time putting out bids in hopes of winning a contract.

You might think I was a construction engineer, planning to cash in on the hefty contribution I made to the mayor’s re-election campaign. If you have a darker turn of mind, you might suspect that I moonlight as a hit man for the mob.

But, no, I’m just an old man who plays bridge, whiling away Wednesday afternoons with other wheezy codgers who hide grins over secret hoards of trump cards and harrumph morosely at yet one more piece of evidence that this sad, old world is nowhere near the way it used to be, by God.

Oh, once I was a rebel. An outlaw. A renegade who disdained societal norms, a heretic malcontent who thumbed his nose at authority.

I played poker.

Oh, not often. Just now and again in the college cafeteria, in Army barracks, with co-workers in somebody’s family room. And not for much. We called them nickel-dime-quarter games (what inflation even way back then required us to rename “penny-ante games”). There was usually a three-raise limit, table stakes often topped out at $20, and you might end up the evening winning or losing enough for lunch the next day.

Still, we were skirting the edges of acceptable behavior and flirting with disaster by flouting the law. Good thing I quit before I got caught.

Because we all know what Indiana legislators think about gambling.

They loathe it with every fiber of their being, detesting the way it preys on human weakness, tempts the desperate poor with hopeless dreams of wealth, tears down the very moral foundations of a decent society.

Or so a handful of them always harrumph morosely, right before they vote with the majority to, you know, once again increase the state’s involvement with organized gambling.

According to figures released in June, Indiana collected $689 million in gambling tax revenues in the 2021-22 fiscal year. The state’s casinos contributed their share, but a lot of the revenue came from the relatively new sports-betting operations, which tempted Hoosiers to make more than $4.43 billion in wagers for the fiscal year. Indiana’s own Hoosier lottery will contribute $334 million to state coffers this year. If the state also allows online casino gambling, studies show it could add another $469 million a year.

Billions and billions gambled by Hoosiers, and the numbers will just continue to grow.

Still, lines must be drawn.

Poker is a card game, which is defined by the state as a “game of chance,” which means it is illegal unless sanctioned by the state. If you play in one of those $20 limit, family room games, you could be found guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and 180 days in jail. If you host the game and take a small percentage of, say, every fifth pot as reimbursement for the refreshments you provided, it could be a Class D felony. But let’s not go there.

Oh, and those football and basketball pools you bet on in the office? Also illegal. Ditto the bingo game your church runs, unless it is approved by the state, a permit is secured, a fee is paid and the rules are strictly obeyed (no prize over $1,000). Penalties can be levied at $5,000 per violation.

It seems unlikely that Indiana prosecutors would go after such piddly little crimes, and we can imagine they would be laughed out of court if they did. But the point is that they could if they wanted to. The law is there, in direct contradiction to how the state actually runs these days, and providing direct evidence of the moral high ground lawmakers have abandoned.

The law is an ass.

Charles Dickens wasn’t the first author to pen that, but his use of it in Oliver Twist made it famous, in a lament by a man incensed by the fact he could be charged for a crime his wife committed, and being told that he was even the more guilty party because “the law supposes your wife acts under your direction.”

At least lawmakers can be asses, especially when they forfeit the right to lecture us on right and wrong.

Leo Morris, columnist for Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier State Press Association’s award for best editorial writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at [email protected] Send comments to [email protected]

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