The RPs Debate Gambling: The RP Provokes

Over the past three weeks, we’ve launched a new tradition at The Recovering Politician: a great virtual debate on the issues of the day among our recovering politicians; with provocations, rebuttals, responses, and defenses.  Our first discussion focused on presidential leadership; our second on legalizing marijuana; and our third, Tim Tebow.

This week, the RP stirs up the mix with another controversial subject: the morality of gambling  The RP starts off with his provocative article from The Huffington Post.  Tune in every half hour to read what other RPs have to say.  

SPOILER ALERT: There will be fireworks.

The RP‘s Provocation:

It was one of those awkward, seemingly-endless moments that elicited pained winces from both secular liberals and those of us who believe that prayer is a sacred communication with God.

Rev. Hershael York stepped up to the Speaker’s lectern, before a televised joint session of the Kentucky General Assembly, purportedly to deliver the opening prayer.  Instead, he launched into a blistering political diatribe, attacking Gov. Steve Beshear’s signature proposal to generate tax revenue by expanding gaming in the Commonwealth:

May [the Legislature] never resort to leveraging vice and avarice to pay our bills… May they not lead this state to share profits from an industry that preys on greed or desperation. Help us to foster salaries, not slot machines, to build cars and enable jobs, not license casinos and seduce the simple into losing what they have.

While York’s oration was as inappropriate as it was unsubtle, it certainly reflected a widely-shared worldview within the conservative Christian community: Gambling is immoral, and its creeping sprawl through Middle America should be contained.

This sentiment is not just limited to the right-wing, fire-and-brimstone set.  My good friend and sometimes mentor, Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper — a Yale grad, interfaith devotee and passionate advocate for social justice — has been similarly outspoken. But instead of pronouncing judgment on private behavior, she addresses what she believes is the public immorality of the government’s involvement in gambling’s expansion:

[Gambling] leads to the sort of undoing of our common democracy, where we all pay in an equal and equitable way for what we need as a society. And this instead says, “Let’s fleece the suckers and get them to pay for what we aren’t willing to pay for ourselves.”

Rev. Kemper makes a powerful point.  There’s no question that, in a practical sense, gambling levies a disproportionate tax on those who too easily fall victim to the false dreams of effortless riches, as well as on those who are addiction-prone to risky, self-destructive behavior.

Accordingly, if our progressive tax system functioned properly, I’d oppose gambling’s expansion on those same grounds.

But as I’ve argued in this space on numerous occasions, our system of government is broken.

And by generating desperately needed funds for basic human needs such as quality public schools, health care for the poor and affordable higher education, tax-revenue-generating gambling serves an extraordinarily valuable — and yes — a moral purpose for society….

Click here to read The RP’s “The Moral Case for Gambling” at The Huffington Post.


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