“Don Corleone said quietly, `It is true I have many, many friends in politics, but they would not be so friendly if my business were narcotics instead of gambling. They think gambling is something like liquor, a harmless vice.'”
That comment by Mario Puzo’s fictional godfather should serve to remind Taiwan’s government of the always present and close ties between legalized gambling and organized crime. It should also serve to remind the general public that gambling is not “a harmless vice.”
The idea of allowing legalized gambling in Taiwan has recently been in the news. Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Chu-lan (¸µâÄõ) has been on a tax payer-supported junket to Las Vegas ostensibly to study “tourism” (“Minister jets off to Las Vegas to study tourism,” Aug. 10, page 1). Obviously, tourism in Vegas means gambling.
This is not the first time that the government has considered gambling. Several years ago the Ministry of Justice looked into what impact legalized gambling would have on the criminal justice system. At that time the consensus was that the cost of legalization outweighed the benefits.
The situation has changed since then — for the worse. Taiwan’s economy is clearly in a downturn and the government is becoming increasingly desperate for a quick fix. One solution that is being considered is gambling. The best metaphor I can use to describe that solution is that it is like drinking seawater to assuage one’s thirst. It looks tempting when one is very thirsty but it merely hastens your death. Legalized gambling will only speed up the death of an economy already in trouble.
The reasons for this are several, and they have been clearly shown by studies done on legalized gambling in different parts of the US. The US-basedTogel Hongkong National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling makes these cogent arguments against legalized gambling:
- The costs of gambling far outweigh the benefits. Studies conducted in several areas of the US where legalized gambling has been introduced show that for every dollar gambling produces for a regional economy, three dollars are lost on gambling’s economic and social costs.
- Gambling cannibalizes local businesses. A hundred dollars spent in a slot machine is a hundred dollars that is not spent in a local restaurant, theater or retail store. As Donald Trump told the Miami Herald, “People will spend a tremendous amount of money in casinos, money that they would normally be spend on buying a refrigerator or a new car. Local businesses will suffer because they’ll lose customer dollars to the casinos.”
- Gambling triggers addiction. The more legalized gambling is available, the more addictive behavior is triggered. In 1989, only 1.7 percent of Iowa’s adults were gambling addicts, but after riverboat casinos were legalized, the rate of addiction more than tripled to 5.4 percent.
The Florida Office of Planning and Budgeting conducted a study which concluded that the costs to government of gambling addiction far outweighed all revenues that might be generated by casino gambling.
- Gambling attracts crime. A comprehensive report by the attorney general of Maryland concludes, “Casinos would bring a substantial increase in crime to our state. There would be more violent crime, more crimes against property, more insurance fraud, more white collar crime, more juvenile crime, more drug and alcohol-related crime, more domestic violence and child abuse and more organized crime.”
- Gambling victimizes the poor. The poorest citizens spend the largest percentage of their incomes on gambling. Those who can afford it the least gamble the most. Both public and private gambling businesses target adver-tising directly at the weakest individuals in society because they are gambling’s best customers.
- Gambling presents a bad example to our children. Gambling promotes the idea that luck, rather than education and hard work, is the key to success. Gambling produces no wealth for society, and suggests that productivity is not important. Gambling sets up artificial risks and glorifies individuals who take the biggest, most foolish chances.
- Gambling corrupts government. So much money is at stake, and gambling companies are so dependent on governmental decisions for a piece of those profits, that corruption is inevitable. Wherever gambling has gone, bribery, extortion and payoffs have followed.
These reasons, although rooted in the US’ situation, are all equally relevant to Taiwan and should be heeded by those considering legalizing gambling.
I never like to criticize a plan without offering an alternative. The government should forget gambling. What Taiwan should do to really jump-start the economy is to turn the entire nation into one huge drug lab; refining opium into heroin, cocoa leaves into cocaine and Red Devil lye into speed. That is where the big money is.
Some might say that such a plan would make Taiwan an international outcast. My reply to that is: Taiwan is already an international outcast, so we might as well be a rich one.
Let me quickly note, the foregoing was said as satire. I don’t want some literal-minded official to think that I am advising that Taiwan be turned into a floating drug lab. That is not a solution to Taiwan’s economic woes. Neither is legalized gambling.
Brian Kennedy is an attorney who writes and teaches on criminal justice and human rights issues.