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In These Times - February 2, 2022

... If state governments want more money, they should tax the people who have the ability to pay: the rich. They should not gamify a tax on the poor and pretend that it is not a tax. Gambling is a tax on gamblers, and another name for gamblers is ​“citizens.”

We are only a week away from the Super Bowl, which promises to be the most gambled-on Super Bowl in American history. That’s because legal sports betting, long restricted to a few small outposts of debauchery, is now rapidly spreading across the country. Many states have recently legalized betting via app — a combination of the inherently addictive nature of gambling, the algorithmically perfected addictive abilities of technology, and a sucker’s game in which players are guaranteed to lose. This could be one of the worst public policy trends in a generation.

We are just now seeing the fruits of the 2018 Supreme Court decision opening the door for states to legalize sports betting. Already, about 30% of Americans can do so, and analysts say that could reach 83% by the end of next year. Louisiana and New York residents are currently being treated to an avalanche of advertisements for newly legal sports betting apps. New Yorkers have dropped a billion dollars on bets in less than a month. We are in the very early stages of something that has the potential to be very, very unhealthy.

This is not just a classic anti-gambling screed. Yes, the odds of sports betting, like every other type of gambling, are fixed so that the house will always win in the long run. States like to think of the tax revenue they bring in from legal gambling as free money from heaven, but it amounts to a regressive tax on citizens, aimed most intensely at those who are so desperate for financial salvation that the vanishing hope provided by the idea of hitting the lottery is worth the certainty that you will, in fact, not hit the lottery. If state governments want more money, they should tax the people who have the ability to pay: the rich. They should not gamify a tax on the poor and pretend that it is not a tax. Gambling is a tax on gamblers, and another name for gamblers is ​“citizens.”

The unique danger of this new sports betting fever is the fact that, for the first time ever, we are going to combine gambling’s mathematical certainty of financial loss with apps. We are going to place inside every single person’s pockets the ability to instantaneously wager on sports, in a way designed by the relentless refinements of Big Data to be pleasing and frictionless and addictive. In the same way that junk food is scientifically engineered to hypnotize our palates, so too will sports betting apps be engineered to encourage compulsive gambling. ...
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