It is a mystery why we put up with this obscene police behavior. Gambling itself is not illegal in Virginia; it is simply controlled by the state. So the Fairfax police department did not bust these hapless poker players with guns drawn for doing something truly immoral and fully outlawed, merely for doing something in a way not approved by the state legislature. Were gambling actually forbidden in Virginia, then a crackdown could at least be understood, if not condoned in so paramilitary a fashion. Yet Virginia’s stance on the matter is not to treat gambling as malum in se, but rather as an instrumentum regni: our government prefers to funnel gambling money into its own coffers for its own ends, outlaw the same thing when it’s done outside of the state’s jurisdiction, and then steal the money of the poor fellows who happen to get caught.

This is, in other words, a matter of state-sanctioned greed and opportunism. Gambling is an immensely profitable business. Like alcohol, a portion of which industry the government in Virginia also controls with a similar level of violence and incompetence, gambling is enough of a cash cow that the Commonwealth is reluctant to let anyone else handle it. This is not because state-controlled lotteries are any more virtuous or less risky. Indeed, Virginia officials know gambling can be both addicting and destructive, which is why the state prints gambling self-help phone numbers on all of its tickets.

Governments control gambling not to legitimize and sanitize the practice, but to extract as much money from the citizenry as they possibly can. In the state’s eyes, the fault of the poker players in Fairfax lay not in betting money on a card game, but in not pouring money into the state’s bank account while they were doing so.