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Opening Arguments

Odds are, you lose

Must be true what they say about gambling -- the house always wins. At least you couldn't disprove it by the Indiana Supreme Court:

A pair of Indiana Supreme Court decisions issued Thursday bolstered the right of Indiana casinos to ban card counters and rejected a problem gambler's effort to recover $125,000 in losses.

The card-counting case concerned Thomas Donovan, Indianapolis, who sued the Grand Victoria Casino and Resort after it banned him from the blackjack table in 2006. The casino won the suit in a Marion County court, the state appeals court reversed that decision, and the casino asked the high court to weigh in.

[. . .]

The Indiana legislature legalized gambling to promote tourism and economic development, "not to insure maximum participation by casino patrons," according to the ruling written by Justice Frank Sullivan Jr.


The other ruling dealt with Genevieve "Jenny" Kephart, a Tennessee woman who lost $125,000 while gambling at a Harrison County riverboat casino now renamed Horseshoe Southern Indiana.

The casino sued to recover the money, but Kephart countersued, claiming the casino had aggressively courted her with offers of free travel, food and a hotel room. A Harrison County judge denied the casino's motion to dismiss, launching a round of appeals that landed the case before the Supreme Court.

So, you can't control your gambling, you lose. You figure out a way to improve your odds, you still lose. Neat.

Actually, it's hard to argue against either decision strictly on libertarian/freedom grounds. You could say that a casino has the same obligation not to feed someon's gambling compulsion as a bartender does not to serve someone who is obviously drunk, but the ultimate responsiblity for bad behavior belongs to the person behaving badly. And as the court noted, by providing for a volunatry exclusion list, the General Assembly intended for problem gamblers to take personal responsibility.

As for the card counter, the court is also right that there is a common-law right for businesses to exclude anyone they want to. When that right has been voided, it's usually for something deemed both irrational and against society's interests, such as banning everyone of a certain race. Whatever else it is, it's not irrational for a company to exclude someone who has figured out a way to beat the system that provides the company's income. It is galling, though, just to know that a business is getting the green light to make the kind of exception that amounts to changing the rules in the middle of the game. All-you-can-eat buffet tonight! Oops, not you, fatty, you'll break the bank.

And get this reasoning behind the card-counter decision:

The Indiana legislature legalized gambling to promote tourism and economic development, "not to insure maximum participation by casino patrons," according to the ruling written by Justice Frank Sullivan Jr.

The opinion further stated, "It seems to us just as likely -- if not more so -- that discouraging card counting enhances a casino's financial success and directly furthers the legislature's express objective of promoting tourism and assisting economic development."

That's about as stark and true an explanation for the state's gaming addiction as you'll ever see, a plain assessment of what a cynical undertaking state-approved gambling is. Our lawmakers want us to gamble and to lose -- their pots of money to play with depend on it. Remember that the next time one of them babbles on about how they want to do what's best for Hoosiers.


Fri, 10/01/2010 - 10:26am

I think the State should just step in and run the casino. Why be content with just taking a rake off the top?

In the current environment, I don't think the normal free market concerns apply. The free market is great at turning out products that are innovative and distributed widely. If one assumes a moral opprobrium for gambling (I don't, personally, but those are the cards currently being dealt), then it is not really a negative if government-run gambling doesn't attract as many people as privately-run gambling.

Essentially, it becomes a way for taxes to be a little more enjoyable. "It's not a tax, it's a game of chance! With booze!"