“And the Christmas carols sounds like blues,

but the choir is not to blame.”

— Jim Croce



My late father was a professional gambler. Toward the end of his life, he was active in helping at a soup kitchen in Cincinnati, which was run by the Sisters of Charity.

One day, as dad was dishing out food to homeless people, my father was approached by the sister who ran the program.

“Joe,” she said, “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a gambler,” replied my father.

“Joe,” she said, “This is the first time we ever had a gambler on this side of the table.”

The key to my father’s success was that he always was on the house side of the table. He started in bookmaking, in the glory days of Covington and Newport, and moved into organizing junkets for Las Vegas casinos, when wide-open gambling faded from the Northern Kentucky scene.

He understood that if the house has the odds in its favor long enough, the house will eventually and always win out. As he often noted, “You never see them tearing down a casino because people beat them out of money.”

First with lotteries, then casinos and now with the push for slot machines at racetracks, governments realized that an easy way to gain revenues is by allowing and sponsoring gambling.

The games that have been legalized, especially the lottery, market to those on “the wrong side of the economic table.”

Some European countries limit access to the casinos to those who prove they have sufficient assets. Various forms of stock and option trading, which can be considered a more elite form of gambling, require that those who invest in those instruments have the net worth to survive a loss.

In my father’s era, bookmakers cut off bettors on losing streaks. Las Vegas casinos used to carefully monitored customers and cut off credit when they lose too much.

There have been few, if any, moves by states to monitor problem gambling by lottery customers.

Legalized casinos, which have several games of skill and reasonable probability, gear most of their operations to the highly profitable slot machines and video games.

Lotteries evolved from a form of gaming called “numbers,” formerly very popular in poor, urban neighborhoods. If you go into a grocery or liquor store in any poor neighborhood today, you will see people who can’t afford to lose even a few dollars, standing around playing scratch off lottery games until all of their money is gone.

I rarely, if ever, gamble. I can’t stand to part with money on such a bad bet.

My few trips to casinos have been bad experiences for the house. I bet little and I am a terror at the low price buffet. I play high probability games and won’t go near a slot machine. I have a certain profit margin in mind and leave the second that I hit it. In short, I am a person casinos do not want to attract.

Making gambling illegal was an attempt to protect people from themselves. There was also a moral stigma about gambling. Now, few really care. Other moral issues are more pressing and the states are hungry for revenue.

People didn’t stop gambling when it became illegal. It was just pushed underground and entrepreneurs such as my dad were able to flourish. Gambling for rich people, such as options trading and sophisticated stock market games, have always been allowed.

When I passed the stockbroker’s test many years ago, I called my father and asked, “Why is futures trading legal but betting on the Bengals illegal?” There is no logical answer.

I wish the people on Wall Street had been betting on pro football instead of trading in mortgage backed securities. We would have been better off.

States such as Kentucky are under a lot of pressure to legalize casinos and slot machines. Like the lottery, they eventually will.

When legislators expand legal gambling, someone must think about and speak out for the person on “the wrong side of the table.”

When I was growing up, my father would go around to the sleeping room hotels and give out bottles of low cost champagne at Christmas. Just like the patrons at the soup kitchen, many of those men were gamblers and often the bottle was the only gift they got.

Legalized state gambling is not responsible for those people being in their station in life, but states needs to take care that they are not keeping them there.

Don McNay of Richmond, an award-winning, syndicated financial columnist, author and Huffington Post Contributor, is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table. Read more about Don at www.donmcnay.com.

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