Monday, 5 February 2007

Trust the (roulette-playing) people

It seems that Don Foster MP isn’t the only one with a paternalistic streak where gambling is concerned.

In what seemed at first to be support for a local employer, Adrian Sanders MP wrote a piece in his blog in which he demonstrated disdain both for the local business and for tourists and residents of his constituency, whom he feels are unable to make sensible decisions about how they spend their money.

It is a shame, because his original point was well-made: it is disgraceful that the government should set a new regulatory regime in place for new businesses when existing companies are expected to stagger along under more onerous regulation and so have to operate at a structural disadvantage.

In his posting On The Road To Ruin (the title of which should have forewarned me, of course), he writes:
If you ran a business and the Government licenced [sic.] a competitor in
your area who could operate under a different set of rules you would quite
rightly cry foul. That's exactly what's now happening with the licence for
a second casino in Torbay.

The company that runs our existing casino is contemplating taking the
Government to court to allow its existing business to enjoy the same light touch
regulation that the new licence will allow a new establishment to enjoy.

If the court agrees, instead of one new casino increasing gambling
addiction, household debt and crime in the area, we will have two!

Proponents of the new casino gloss over these social costs, but no one
can point to anywhere on earth where a new casino opened and the suicide rate,
household debt rate, divorce rate, crime rate and gambling addiction rate
fell. In all cases these costs fell on the local population while the
profits made from gambling left the town.

Fascinatingly, he does not suggest that “the suicide rate, household debt rate, divorce rate, crime rate and gambling addiction” actually rose. Merely that they did not fall. Of course the suggestion that all the profits leave town are nonsense, as a visit to Las Vegas or Atlanta will show. The jobs created in both the casino and in supporting industries (e.g. hotels, restaurants) are enjoyed by local people, or if they do draw in workers from outside those workers then earn and spend in the local community.

What is more, as with alcohol and drug addiction or the damage done to themselves by skiers, mountain climbers or marathon runners, the fact that some individuals suffer loss or harm is no reason to restrict – let alone ban – a pastime. It is wrong to restrict all gambling just because some people cannot gamble sensibly, and it is wrong of parliamentarians to step in and seek to constrain individual’s behaviour in a paternalistic effort to protect people from themselves.

To be fair, one cannot fault Mr. Sanders’ final prescription:
We need a debate and a referendum in Torbay [and presumably in other areas too]
where the public can judge the evidence put forward by those who see this as
economic regeneration, against the evidence of those who see this as social
That is right. I hope that all would-be nannies in parliament will restrain their legislative hands and allow local communities to decide. Perhaps while they are there they might take a moment to ponder Randolph Churchill’s exhortation to parliamentarians: Trust the people.

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