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Opening Arguments

Count on luck

At least the casinos have provided one valuable service -- giving the governor fodder for a slightly more interesting commencement speech than the usual "seize the moment and face the future while following your passion and making a difference" drivel:

Gov. Mitch Daniels acknowledged in a commencement speech Saturday that he's rooting for a self-described card counter to win his lawsuit against a casino that banned him for the practice.

[. . .]

The Indiana Supreme Court is considering whether the Grand Victoria Resort and Casino in Rising Sun acted appropriately when it banned Thomas P. Donovan because he was counting cards, a method of tracking which cards have been played to better predict whether a high or low card might be the next one dealt.

[. . .]

"Donovan's sin in the casino's eyes is not that he is inordinately lucky, it's that he's inordinately smart," Daniels said. "He has taught himself to count the cards as they are played, then constantly and quickly to calculate the odds on his winning the next hand. In a game where luck still plays a large part, Donovan has through hard work learned to improve his chances."

Notice that the governor did not say, "Be smart, and you will succeed." He said "Work hard to improve your chances." That's a distinction that would be worthy of further exploration in a setting other than a graduation speech. Some of the most admired accomplishments result from a combination of skill (or smarts or effort) and luck, and sometimes luck has to finish what skill starts. To get a hole-in-one in golf, for example, you have to be skilled enough to get the ball to the green near the hole. But whether the ball actually goes in the hole is purely a matter of chance. A skilled golfer who plays every day for his adult life might end up with several holes-in-one, or none.

I remain with mixed feelings about Donovan's suit. The casino operators, who rig the game at every turn and change the rules when the odds tilt slightly against them, deserve no sympathy. But my libertarian instincts are offended by the idea of government telling a lawful enterprise, however loathsome it may be, how to conduct its business.

Hey, guess I just had a Rand Paul moment there. Well, I am from Kentucky.