Wellington Webb was the first African American Mayor of Denver, head of the National Conference of Black Mayors and was briefly in the running for DNC chair. Since that time, he has taken a position with Sheldon Adelson as a co-chair for the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. This month he penned an impassioned editorial stressing just how important it is to protect people from the dangers of gambling. Well… at least some types of gambling.
Some people have asked me why I strongly oppose Internet gambling, and I can sum it up in one sentence: Gambling on the Internet is for chumps.
“Chumps” is an old-school reference to naïve and foolish people, the ones who think if they make just one more bet they will strike it rich but instead find themselves in a deep, deep financial hole.
Long before the Internet became part of our daily lives, the chump sought out the corner street game where you tried to pick out the “money” card out of three cards laying face down on a cardboard box. And you guessed it the chump never picked the right card.
This article meanders all over the place, pointing out a number of important truths. These include the propensity for minority, low income citizens to fall into deep trouble over gambling debts and the dangers of getting in over your head. But the truly interesting part of this analysis is found right in the beginning of the piece where Webb talks about “chumps.”
Whether you’re in a casino or in an online gaming environment, gambling is a terrible idea if you can’t control yourself or are betting money you can’t afford to lose. We all know this. But the fact remains that I actually have won a little cash at Pokerstars (before it was shut down) and have had a couple good nights in Atlantic City when I was younger. Overall I certainly lost more than I won, and I wouldn’t suggest it as a way for anyone in tight financial times to get rich quick, but I imagine that most of us have either experienced the same thing as me or know someone who has. Do you know what form of gambling I’ve never had a big hit at and have never met a single person who has done so?
If you want to talk about a game for “chumps” then you’d be hard pressed to find a much better example than the lottery. Your odds of hitting the big prizes are frequently listed as being worse than being hit by lightning. (And I’m guessing that’s true, because I actually have a cousin who was hit by lightning as a kid.) I’m not saying you shouldn’t play – again, providing you keep it under control. My wife gets a ticket every week and it’s worth a dollar to spend a minute dreaming what you would do with the cash. But it’s just as easy to let it rip you up if you’re not careful.
But what, you might ask, does this have to do with Wellington Webb? The key word is hypocrisy.
Webb added more than 2,000 acres of new parks and open space to Denver… paid for in large party by lottery proceeds. In 1996, Webb allocated $11.4 million for more land for parks. How would that be paid for? “Future state lottery allocations.” In fact, from the mid 1990s through 2002, Webb was involved in pushing multiple public works projects totaling tens of millions of dollars, and a deep dive into these stories shows that nearly all of them were to be financed – at least in part – with lottery money.
So sometimes I guess it’s good to have those “chumps” around, eh? Let’s not be confused about this. Nobody is saying that gambling – in general – is a great thing. Like any other recreational pursuit, it can be a definite negative for those who are essentially addicted to it. But the claim that casino gambling is somehow “safer” or better for people is an argument made by those who own casinos. And by those they hire to very well paying positions to lobby the public for them.