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Bookies and Bettors — and the Rising of Casinos

I was never any good at pitching pennies. I’ve never had any success at the few times I deigned to play the lottery. Chances to hit the right numbers for the big money are slim to none. It’s a nice thought that an overwhelming amount of money will just drop into our hands and we can simply lollygag around the rest of our lives.

Playing sports cards is a big business throughout the land and the only thing I’ve seen are bags of nerves from the fanatics and tears and jeers.

In my early newspapers days, Thursdays was the day the composing room representative came through the news and sports departments passing out the weekend college and professional football cards and collecting the dollars or maybe a five-spot. Players would pick the winners. Few would be collecting payoffs on Monday when the bookie’s agent was supposed to come around.

Somehow one Monday I had picked seven winners and anticipated the payoff. Naturally I was excited and my older and wiser colleagues wanted to share in the winnings with beers at the local hangout. Soon, the money man arrived and announced the money had been confiscated in a police raid. It was a bit disheartening and a quietness took over in what was usually a loud and active newsroom.

The crafty police reporter heard the story, slipped out and went to the police department. He discovered promptly no such raid occurred and the cops weren’t even aware that such gambling took place in the newspaper plant.

Before noon, the reporter went to the back shop, confronted the bookie and suggested he payoff immediately or he would be busted.

How nice it was for this 17-year-old to collect the $40 payoff. In those days the pay was only a dollar and hour, honest, and that was more than I earned in a week. When you were in “heaven” and lived at home, the salary didn’t really matter, at least for a while.

Since those days, playing the numbers or the slots have never meant much. I can’t even play cards, just not smart or crafty enough, unless it’s blackjack or “twenty-one.”

I’m not picking on anyone who plays the lottery or who enjoys the excitement of craps, poker or any other game of chance. Most people though simply can’t afford it. Frankly, the odds are overwhelmingly against bettors, even at the horse- and dog-racing tracks.

Most of the states now are all involved in lotteries and the excuses are the revenue goes to education, supposedly public schools. In Maryland, there is some frequent talk that National Harbor in Prince Georges County and in Frederick city and county should have casinos. The National Harbor gambling center would have a major effect on Alexandria and all of northern Virginia. What’s startling is the fact there has been little or no public outcry to such proposals.

Business is important of course but why infiltrate the family-oriented cities and towns of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia with legalized gambling? I’m not suggesting a crusade in opposition but I am wondering where is the silent majority? Where is the common sense? No drugs and no smoking are allowed in or around schools or other public places but why let the vice — and gambling is a vice — creep into lifestyles of families, churches, schools. It’s time to hear from the courts, the sheriff’s office and police departments.

What’s a little vice between friends? Maybe this corner is a bit stuffy but there are good reasons crime increases sharply. Will there be enough money from the casino incomes to build new schools, hire more law enforcement personnel and construct larger jails? I doubt it but more cops and larger jails will be needed.

Casinos are not a good idea. People work hard and don’t need to be waylaid by luck or chance.

Maybe if I had been a better marble shooter, palm reader and quick thinking poker player my thoughts on casinos would be different.

I like what H. L. Mencken said, “The taste for gambling … is a kind of feeblemindedness.”