All bets are off


With a Federal Supreme Court ruling coming down in May, the state is officially headed into uncharted waters, but we will luckily have some fellow states testing the currents before we plunge our own raft down the rapids of legal sports gambling.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 1992 ruling that outlawed sports betting in May, and now Rhode Island is one of a handful of states who have already laid groundwork to capitalize on that revenue stream moving forward. Governor Gina Raimondo, in fact, hedged a bet of her own on this occurring, as she plugged $23.5 million in her most recent budget with revenue coming from legal sports betting at the state’s two casinos.

For those unfamiliar with the gambling world, we should make one thing clear. Just because gambling has been, to this point, outlawed in Rhode Island and in a majority of the country, does not by any means that it hasn’t been going on anyway.

Similar to when prohibition banned the sale of alcohol in the early 20th century, only to spawn a generation of bootleggers and an entire hidden industry of speakeasy operators, or to how banned literature and other forms of entertainment mysteriously becomes the most sought after, simply because something isn’t legal, on the books, does not make it magically impossible to partake in.

So rest assured, while some may find the official legality of sports betting in the state to be in poor judgment, or a sign of a society that has lost its moral bearings, keep in mind this practice was already happening in the back rooms of restaurants, the basements of suburban houses and on dozens if not hundreds of online variations that pop up as quickly as they can be found out and eliminated by the federal authorities.

Now, at least hypothetically, the state will be able to tap into this already thriving industry and make some sorely needed revenue, as budget deficits loom in the hundreds of millions of dollars. While sports gambling will not be the panacea to cure budgetary mismanagement, it will at least be adding dollars in the right direction, rather than putting more burden on taxpayers.

Sports gambling, just like any other form of gambling, pits the human ego against itself. People can win huge sums of taxable money based on their research, ingenuity, or even just their “gut” feelings, or they can lose. While some bets are more foolish than others, at the end of the day, it’s a roll of the dice in another, more passive format. In all forms of legal gambling thus far, people do not come out in the green in the big picture – the casinos, which pay taxes to the state, do.

From a short scan of articles pertaining to the subject, there are more people excited about the possibility of being able to wager a bet if they feel so inclined than those sounding an alarm of concern, which is indicative of the fact that people are happy to partake in something they know is a financial risk for the possible rewards of a big payout. It’s the same reason people buy a Powerball ticket or play scratch tickets – the thrill of the possibility; the daydreams of the prosperity it can bring.

However, it isn’t breaking news to report that gambling, like anything else, can be abused and overdone. People can become addicted to gambling just as they can become addicted to mind-altering substances. Some people intend to only gamble a little, only to keep pushing their luck as they dig themselves a deeper and deeper hole. Next thing they know, they’ve gambled away their life savings, or their honeymoon fund or their stash put away for their child’s college education.

While affording people more freedom to engage in risks that they feel comfortable to take is an important part of any truly free society, to be a simultaneously caring society we must also take into consideration the fact that some people will abuse that freedom and be harmed by it. We must be able to provide care for these people through adequate programming and support.

Nobody is certain how the future of gambling will look in Rhode Island, but we can be certain that the state will not be turning their nose up at possible sources of tax revenue given their current situation. While this can be a boon to industries once deemed taboo, we must remain vigilant to ensure we don’t compromise on other, more fundamental values of care for one another.


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